Tomatoes, New Jersey agriculture go hand-in-hand
Tomatoes and New Jersey agriculture: It’s nearly impossible to have one without the other and with the long-term outlook for the crop, it won’t be necessary to try.
“The tomato has long been part of New Jersey’s food and farming culture,” said Joe Atchison III, Marketing and Development Division Director of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
“The tomatoes grown here in the Garden State, whether on a large producers’ land, or by gardeners who enjoy the pleasure of planting tomatoes and then tasting them for themselves, have a world-wide reputation for their savory nature,” Atchison said. “The tomato has been one of New Jersey’s most grown crops for many years. Along with top quality, farmers here produce tomatoes for a variety of clientele. They are found in supermarkets, community farmers markets, on-farm stands, and are often part of Community Supported Agriculture operations.
“They are also in demand by restaurants as well as for value added items to enhance various sauces, soups, and other products.”
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture indicated that the state ranked as the third largest grower of tomatoes in the United States. 2019 is the most recent year for statistics detailing N.J. tomatoes farming.
According to the New Jersey 2019 Annual Vegetable Report issued by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 3,600 acres were planted with tomatoes in the state and 3,400 of those acres of tomatoes were harvested. Overall production utilization included a total of 89.4 million pounds of tomatoes; the value of the tomato harvest was $71.5 million in 2019.
Details about the tomato farming segment in New Jersey are included in the 2012 and 2017 Census of Agriculture Reports issued by the USDA NASS.
In 2012, there were 688 farms growing tomatoes on 4,084 acres in New Jersey. While the number of farms growing tomatoes increased to 812 farms, acreage in tomato production decreased to 3,853 in 2017.
Organic farming is one segment of the agricultural industry that has been expanding in recent years.
Cherry Grove Organic Farm includes two acres and is located three miles south of Princeton in Mercer County.
“Each season we grow crops selected for their superior taste and quality,” stated Matt Conver, owner of Cherry Grove Organic Farm. “We strive to produce new and innovative crops, from odd-looking but great-tasting heirloom tomatoes to tried-and-true staples like beets and carrot.
“By choosing to farm organically we avoid the use of toxic, synthetic chemicals and stimulants while promoting healthy soil through soil-improving crops and balanced farming practices. We have been Certified Organic since 2002 by NOFA-NJ and currently by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.”
In 2020, about 40,000 pounds of tomatoes were harvested at Cherry Grove Organic Farm, Conver said, adding that 2020 was an average year for his farm.
He explained that the bulk of the harvest is sold directly to consumers at Summit, Scotch Plains, and Princeton Farmers’ Markets and through CSA.
He also explained that sales also are made to a few local wholesale health food stores and restaurants, with most customers are in the central and northern parts of New Jersey.
The COVID-19 Pandemic affected operations at Cherry Grove Organic Farm.
“COVID-19 greatly shifted where our tomatoes were sold,” said Conver. “Our CSA sales at the farm increased by 50%; due to the protocols that needed to be implemented to ensure the safety of getting the tomatoes to our customers, the sales decreased at our largest market, but increased at one of our smaller markets. COVID-19 also required us to increase our staffing to implement the necessary protocols in order to ensure the safety of our customers/staff. Despite COVID-19 and normal disease, the weather was stable and it was actually a great growing season for the tomatoes.”
For 2021, “We hope to continue/maintain our present level of sales,” Conver continued. “We have a great crew that works hard every year, but weather and disease are always external forces that impact every season to some extent.
“We are hopeful that the impact from COVID-19 will stabilize this year in terms of the necessary protocols that need to be implemented to ensure that we are getting produce safely to our customers.”
“The variety of tomatoes we grow in New Jersey meet a wide range of needs,” said Atchison. “Along with the bigger and traditional varieties such as beefsteak, other varieties, such as heirloom, or grape and cherry sizes, also appeal to consumers. The fact that New Jersey remains one of the leaders in the production and sales of tomatoes is a credit to our farmers’ dedication and innovation. We expect our delicious tomatoes to be an important product in New Jersey’s agricultural identity well into the future.”
(The Delmarva Jordbruk Chronicles is a news column that details agriculture in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. “Jordbruk” is Swedish for “Agriculture.” Please contact Richard McDonough at firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2021 Richard McDonough.)