It’s 10 a.m. Do you know where your farmer is? On Tuesday, February 9, at 10 a.m. there was a good chance that the whereabouts of your local farmer was Mediterra restaurant in Princeton, taking part in the latest Princeton Farmers and Buyers Roundtable. The mission of this periodic meeting, assembled by Raoul and Carlo Momo of the Terra Momo Restaurant Group, is to find ways to increase the distribution of local farm products to more Princeton-area retail markets, restaurants, and institutions.
I am neither a farmer nor a distributor, but I am an avid consumer who religiously patronizes farmers markets, restaurants, and food markets that make a point of carrying locally produced goods. Among the reasons I attend these meetings is to get the scoop on what’s on the horizon for the upcoming growing season. And to pass that information on.
Those attending came from as far away as Salem County and Philadelphia and as close as Mediterra itself. In total, the 17 attendees — some of whom wear more than one hat — comprised five farmers, two distributors of New Jersey farm products, three retailers, two chefs, three restaurateurs, one farm market manager, two farm-to-school advocates, and two leaders of farm advocacy non-profits. Here’s a preview of what we can look forward to in the coming months and beyond.
An organic apple a day. Tanwenn Mount of Terhune Orchards announced that her father, Gary, will plant organic apple trees this year — for the third time in this family farm’s 35-year history. The first two times were nonstarters. They are hopeful, she says, that with the latest improvements in available root stock, “the third time will be a charm.” She also made a point that we consumers should take to heart: that many of the 40-plus crops that Terhune grows each year are based on requests from customers. “Whatever our customers asked for last year that we didn’t have, we’ll order seeds and give it a try,” she told the group. “We try to figure out what it is that someone will drive five miles to our farm for.”
Say cheese. Ian MacDonald, assistant manager of Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville, known up until now for its grassfed beef, pork, and lamb, eggs, and farmstead cheeses, divulged, “We changed things around a lot this past year. We are now pushing cheese to the forefront. We’re moving away from meat into raw milk cheese.” This change is due in part to farm’s goal of becoming financially self-sustaining. The costs associated with getting animals processed and butchered at approved facilities remain prohibitive.
OK, honey. Joe Stroh from Alternative Wholesale, based in Sayreville, announced that raw honey will be added to the list of Jersey Fresh products his company already distributes, a list that includes peach cider, blueberry iced tea, canned Jersey tomatoes, and Farmer Steve’s organic popcorn. “Demand for Jersey Fresh canned and processed products is increasing,” he said. Among the businesses he currently distributes to are the Whole Earth Center, Terhune Orchards, and Cherry Grove Farm, all of which had representatives at the meeting.
Herban Renewal. Raoul and Carlo Momo spoke of what they termed a “double whammy” that downtown Princeton businesses are experiencing: the economic downturn and the ongoing construction boom. “But we’re here for the long haul,” Raoul Momo assured the group. Carlo Momo disclosed that the team’s erstwhile Herban Garden, which had been at the corner of Witherspoon Street and Paul Robeson Place, is being replanted in Kingston, where their Eno Terra restaurant is located.
Top chef. Beth Feehan, manager of the West Windsor Community Farmers Market and co-leader of Slow Food Central New Jersey revealed that this summer every farmers market in central New Jersey will feature Slow Food Chef Days.
Farm it out. James DeMarsh, general manager of the Common Market in Philadelphia, a non-profit wholesaler of farm fresh products, told the group that he currently delivers to wholesale accounts such as hospitals and schools (including the Lawrenceville School), but wants to extend his services to restaurants and food retailers.
Urban veggies. David Glenn, who last September became co-executive director, along with his wife, Michelle, of the Hillsborough-based Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NOFA-NJ,) said his non-profit will reach out to an underserved constituency by “being more inclusive of urban gardeners and urban consumers.”
To market, to market. Perhaps the most exciting news I took away from the meeting was that there is talk in the air of mounting a weekly season-long farmers market right smack in the middle of downtown Princeton, around the library. This would be either in addition to or in lieu of the market that runs on the university campus for a few weeks in the spring and again in the fall.