By Murray Schulman
I live in a small community in southwestern corner of New Jersey close to the Delaware Memorial Bridge. It is a community with friendly neighbors, nice yards and just enough space to sit out on the patio on warm summer afternoons and listen to the breeze rustle the leaves in the trees and hear the birds chirping. The neighbors smile, wave and maybe comment on the day. Then they go about their business. As I sit on the patio, I enjoy the sweet aroma of Liz’s flowers and the aromatic pungency of my huge basil plants. Trust me, I am no farmer. I attempt to grow a few tomatoes with the emphasis on few, as that is the extent of what my plants yield. My one claim to fame in the growing department is basil. I am just fine with that because I have a foolproof solution.
One of my favorite things about my community is that we have several produce stands close by. Some of these stands are no more than a covered table in front of a private home. There is usually an “honor box” for payment. Displayed are a few home-grown vegetables freshly picked from the garden. I bought three huge zucchinis just the other day. Another stand in the area sells pickles made from Kirby cucumbers grown in the owner’s backyard garden. You won’t find a better pickle anywhere.
In addition to these small private stands, we have two farm markets, one on each end of town. Both of these open markets are operated by local farmers. There is nothing fancy about these markets, unless you really look at the quality and variety of the locally grown fruit and vegetables. I make it a point to shop at both of our local farm markets. It is the right thing to do. Equally important to supporting these local farmers is the return on the investment. I look around and find three different types of eggplant. Every zucchini and yellow squash is perfect. Even though the early corn season had a rocky start, the corn now is plump, juicy and sweet with that snap that makes you smile with every bite. I find all types of beans, local onions, beets, carrots and a world of root vegetables. Asparagus are lined up on the tables like a parade of soldiers. Herbs and greens of every shape and hue fill baskets everywhere I look. The list of vegetables goes on and on. This is where I find peace as I make my selections. My mind fills with the possibilities of preparation and presentation.
I turn again to a splash of brilliant red as mounds of huge tomatoes meet my eyes. You know the ones, big fat Jersey tomatoes. A thick slab between slices of warm fresh bread, a smear of mayonnaise and a sprinkle of salt and pepper is sheer bliss. Just the sight of these beauties fires my imagination.
Still the spectacle continues. Giant sweet watermelons, honeydews and cantaloupes are stacked to the sky. Each of them promises that explosion of pleasure with every bite. I need more than one napkin to keep the juice of local nectarines, plums and peaches from running down my arms.
There is nothing fancy about these markets – just rough handmade counters, tables and shelves filled literally with the fruits of the owners’ labor. When I look around, I see the long hard days. I see the farmers standing in their fields looking to the heavens and hoping for that perfect mix of sun and rain. They are dependent on the land and the elements coming together to produce that perfect crop. Just the other day I stopped at the farm market to find the farmer with calloused hand and beads of sweat on his brow from hours in the fields standing at the counter snipping and bagging beans to save me some work. He greeted me with a smile and reminded me that these beans were just picked. There is another reason I buy at our local farm market. The farmer and his family don’t always remember my name. They just know that I a customer. It doesn’t matter if I load up the counter with my selections or if I just run in for a melon and a half-dozen ears of Jersey-grown corn. The smiles are sincere and warm. There is pride in their eyes in what they have produced.
If you have never shopped at a farm market, do so. If you have shopped at your local market, take a moment to look at your surroundings with a slightly different perspective. You will be amazed at the joy you will feel when a simple smile is warmly returned and the thank you that you receive comes straight from the heart.