The timing of Memorial Day's a marker of many things as we move through the year, not the least of which is the beginning of the farm market season, or as my friend Mike is fond of saying, Memorial Day's the real beginning of summer.
This is the week New Jersey's Farmer's Markets and Farm Stands begin to open up in earnest. The few that have been open and carrying mostly produce from other areas are now supplementing with their own local inventory, and others are opening in earnest for the first time this season. From Blairstown to Pennington to Cape May, early June is the start of the season. Visit Natural Jersey's Farmer's Market Listings to see where you'd like to start your exploring this season!
Spring in New Jersey is a relative term for many reasons. Usually wet, it's common for folks to feel like there's been no spring at all, but of course, that's what spring's all about. There is also enough of a temperature difference between the southern and northern ends that South Jersey can be as much as a month ahead in the growing season. Despite the differences we can all look forward to the same spring produce.
Greens such as lettuce, spinach and parsley are all great spring fare, and the selection & storage is the same. Greens are best in the spring before they bolt or get tough, and will keep best if free of bruises, cuts and mold. The best indicator of healthy fresh greens is good color and a crisp unwilted look,they should also smell fresh! Greens should be washed in cool water to rinse off the grit of sand and dirt that is likely to have splashed onto it during the spring rains. They can be gently dried between paper towels and stored in the refrigerator. They can keep up to a week if fresh and dry, but are usually best in the first 3 days or so.
If you're interested in foraging for your own local greens, ramps and dandelions are also plentiful this time of year. Dandelion leaves should be picked when they're still small and the flowers haven't developed. They can be eaten raw or steamed, boiled or sauteed just like any of the other spring greens. If this idea interests you I recommend getting a good illustrated book on wild food foraging to help you identify edible plants in your area. Bon appetit!
What is probably the last of the snow is melting here in northern NJ. Since we've "sprung ahead" and the days are staying lighter longer it's not unusual to see someone doing some tentative clean up in their yard in the evening hours. On the weekends I'm starting to hear the sound of chainsaws announcing yard clean up as we get ready for the warmth of summer. As my thoughts turn to the pleasures of summer, I can't help but to think about the glories of getting fresh local Jersey tomatoes, corn and berries.
If you've ever thought of joining a Community Supported Garden, this is the time to do it. CSG's have a limited number of shares, and their regular members are going to make sure they have their share reserved. If you join while there are still shares to be had you can look forward to a weekly supply of fresh produce. Of course, the volume and variety is predicated by the weather, putting you back in touch with the growing seasons. CSG pick-ups usually include not only vegetables in season but may include herbs, fruit, honey or even baked goodies depending on the nature of that particular CSA. They each have their own personality that spawns a mini-community surrounding the rhythms of the summer harvests.
If the idea of "sharing" a garden intrigues you, take a look at the Community Supported Gardens listed here and see if there isn't one near you that you'd like to look into joining.
If you don't see a CSG that seems to meet your needs, then you can look into to New Jersey's Farm Stands and Farmer's Markets in your area. In a few weeks the markets will be starting their seasonal sales giving us another opportunity to get healthy local food. There's also a delightful feeling of freedom to spend some time on a weekend or a weekday evening exploring the aisles of a local farmer's market. Like planning a garden or cleaning up the lawn, researching local options for fresh food and marking it on the calendar is a renewing ritual of spring.
NaturalJersey.com was created in order to have a place on the web where we can all share the great green & natural health resources in NJ. I hope you find it a never ending resource when you're looking for health-minded local businesses.