Thursday, February 29, 2024

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Farm fresh markets imitated, but never duplicated

 

By Maureen Cawley

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So when a sandwich shop in Mississippi promises “original Philly cheesesteaks” or the Walt Disney corporation advertises its “Boardwalk” in Florida, the polite thing to do is say “Thank you,” even though the roll is soggy or the place lacks the nostalgic grit.
I had to remind myself of that during a recent daytrip to the shopping metropolis of Cherry Hill, where stopped amid the malls and big box shopping centers in the mega-supermarket, Wegmans, for a quick nosh on homebaked bagels. The place is a gourmet’s dream with picture perfect food displays, an incredible array of organic and ethnic foods and an inventory that all but guarantees they have just what you are looking for (if you can find it.)
As we entered the foodie nirvana, however, we were immediately struck by a familiar sight. Right in the entryway was a “roadside food stand,” painstakingly piled with Jersey Fresh tomatoes, and fragrant peaches and herbs.
“It’s just like our farm markets,” I said, “…without the personality.”
I am a huge fan of our local markets, not just because they offer fruit, fresh off the vines, and bountiful plants for the garden, but also because I love the way each one is so staunchly individualistic.
A visit to Marboro Market in Green Creek is like a tour of an exotic shady garden with its artistically placed patchwork of flowers accented with garden urns and sculptures. LeGates Market, established 1923, offers a rich history with an American Flag flying out front with a view of cultivated fields, and neat tables piled high with a cornicopia of red tomatoes and sweet corn. No Frills Farm in West Cape May fulfills its promise with an uber-rustic vibe and bargain prices on veggies, flowers and an amazing selection of herbs.
Cape May County is at its heart Jersey Fresh. From Upper Township to Cape May, the county offers a bounty of delicious homegrown foods and beverages and native plants and flowers—in fact some three dozen farms operate here throughout the year. If you don’t have a few favorites yet, check out http://www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh/ to find one near you.
There’s no Musak to shop by, no shopping club cards and no guarantees that they’ll have exactly what you want on a given day…but they might have something better.
Farmers market shoppers know generally that the early bird catches the worm. That’s why folks stop by early at LeGates. At 8 a.m. on a recent morning, several shoppers were there already, perhaps planning dinner, or looking for the perfect peach for breakfast. And this time of year, you need to hit No Frills Farm early as well to get first dibbs on the yellow beans or beets. Farmer (and Lower Township school teacher) Charles Taylor says he picks them fresh from the adjacent fields at 6 a.m. every morning, but it’s hard to judge just how many he’ll need.
It’s pretty much the opposite of the big box stores we so often long for in these parts. There’s no slick marketing or pristine uniformity. Instead, you might get to shake hands with the guy, who planned, plowed, planted and plucked your dinner, and there is always something new in season. And that’s what makes it fun, like a treasure hunt or following a rainbow of flowers to a basket of perfect golden squash.

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