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August 26, 2014

A Day at the Farm: a tour of ShopRite’s local NJ farms

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At the end of July we had the pleasure of going on a tour of some local New Jersey farms that provide fresh produce daily to surrounding ShopRite stores. The Colalilo family who own and operate the ShopRite’s of Clinton, Flemington & Greenwich, NJ were nice enough to host us along with about 100 of their customers for the day.

We were both excited to get out there and learn about local fruits and vegetables from some of New Jersey’s finest farmers. All of the farmers who toured us around their families’ properties really made us appreciate what goes into the phrase “Farm to Table”. For instance; did you know that you only get one edible ear of corn from every corn stalk?!?!

Our first stop was Piazza Farm in Lopatcong, NJ. Sam Piazza is the third generation of farmers who have been growing crops on this land for the last 60 years. Piazza farm grows lots of different vegetables; green & red cabbage, kohlrabi, all different kinds of peppers hot & sweet, all types of squashes, cucumbers, multiple varieties of tomatoes, a few different kinds of corn, broccoli and cauliflower.

Sam and his family use special plastic to cover the clay based soil and seal in the moisture that comes from the underground drip irrigation system. Here are rows of zucchini plants: on the left are the young plants that have been recently transported from the greenhouse and on the right are the older plants that are currently producing zucchini. By planting the same vegetables at different times he can assure that he has produce to sell all throughout the summer.

Don’t these cabbage look huge?? I love how they are so pretty in their neat little rows. I never realized how many outer leaves each head has!!  On the Piazza farm all of the peppers, cucumbers and tomato plants are staked and tied by hand which Sam tells us keeps the plants growing up and out to fill in the space between each one. This procedure also keeps the vegetables off of the ground. All of his families’ vegetables are also handpicked and packaged to sell at their road side market or brought to local ShopRite stores usually the same day it is ordered.

Our second stop of the day was Donaldson Farms in Hackettstown, NJ. Greg Donaldson gave us a tour while we all relaxed on a scenic hay ride. Greg is also third generation and his family has farmed in NJ for 100 years, they are now responsible for almost 1,000 acres of land. They grown not only fruits and vegetables for people but also produce hay and corn for animals.

Greg taught us a great farming tip to bring home to our families’ backyard garden. When it comes time to pick tomatoes and they have become red it is best to take them off the vine immediately. This allows the plant to then focus all of its energy on the unripe tomatoes and make only only the fruit itself better but it also helps the plant grown the fruit faster.

Here is a beautiful shot of Donaldson Farm in the distance surrounded by tons and tons of corn. It’s such a nice picture, you’d think it was from Nebraska or another mid-west state. They have lots of different events throughout the year and allow customers to go in to the fields and pick their own raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, gourds, pumpkins and decorative Indian corn.

During our delicious lunch of burgers, salad and corn on the cob, New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher told us that although NJ is one of the most densely populated states in the whole nation, it has the fourth highest yield for produce. I think that is pretty impressive!

Our third and final farm of the day was the Melickstown Farm in Oldwick, NJ. You may be familiar with the name because they make delicious apple cider and sell it at most NJ ShopRite stores. Peter Melick took us through his apple orchards and told us how it has changed over the years. These apple trees are dwarf trees that have graft roots. If you notice in the picture above each tree is tied onto pipes where they are forced to grow up. By doing this the orchard can hold more trees and produce more apples, quicky than the old way of planting big trees every couple of feet and allowing them to grown on their own. This new way of planting also gives the farmer the option to change the variety of apple once the tree has been established.

Then he brought us over to their pick your own peach orchard where we found some juicy white peaches which we enjoyed on the spot. He told us peach trees only live about 15-20 years but take three years to produce fruit and then another additional two years to produce enough fruit to make a profit. These trees are grown and pruned to be low to the ground so you don’t need a ladder to pick all of the fruit. He also told us that they harvest both their peaches and their apples every three days, taking the fruit that is the closest to the middle and top of the tree first because it gets the most sunlight and nutrients the fastest so it should be ripe first. Then as the season progresses they work their way to the outside and bottom of the tree until it is completely bare.

 

We hope you enjoyed our farm tour story and pictures!!

Nicole & Susan

 

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