Wholesale markets sustain farm in urban Union Co.
CLARK — While most anything can be grown here on New Jersey soils, very few farmers grow everything. Thus, the need for farmers to buy wholesale.
Brothers Andrew and Fred Schieferstein oversee operations with a small crew, including Andrew’s sons and wife Laurie, at their busy market on Madison Hill Road in Clark.
While his grandparents sold off much of their land due to development pressures in Union County, a suburb of New York City, his family has been involved in farming for 120 years. Now, five acres remains available for cultivation behind the Schieferstein’s diversified market. They sell landscape plants and materials, bags of mulch and top soil, Christmas trees and firewood, and the produce market is closed from Thanksgiving until mid-April most years.
“I’ve been doing this about 30 years, at least since I was in my 20’s. Before that, I’d often go with my father to the old Newark Produce Market,” Fred Schieferstein said.
After the Newark facility closed, he made trips for a number of years up to the world’s largest produce market, Hunts Point in the Bronx. When tolls got too expensive for small trucks over the George Washington Bridge, he ended that practice and began paying weekly visits in 2009 to the then-new Philadelphia International Produce Market.
“You want to keep your inventory fresh and available when people are coming to your market, and you’ve got to have what they need,” he said.
“All of my inventory I take on a visual basis. I don’t really have it computerized, I don’t know exactly how many pounds of green beans I’ve sold but I can go and look and see I’m down to a half a bushel of beans,” he said, so he begins preparing several detailed shopping lists on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the market in Clark.
“Another important thing is to look at the weather forecast and the calendar to see what holidays are coming up because that’s going to affect attendance at the farm market.
“You try to strike a balance between the two and the experience of doing this now for many decades, I can anticipate now we’re going to sell three bushels of string beans in the next four or five days, for example,” he said.
The brothers’ market on Madison Hill Road is an indoor facility equipped with air conditioning, plenty of refrigerated cases and walk-in refrigerated storage. They try to sell every fruit and vegetable one might find at the supermarkets.
As more produce becomes available, Schieferstein’s market carries a broad spectrum of fruits and vegetables. They also sell eggs, juices, baked goods and a wide variety of value-added products.
“The Philadelphia International Produce market is the place to get 90 percent of the items that you need, because they stock produce from all over the world and between this market and going to farms directly in South Jersey and some in central New Jersey, you can get truly local produce,” he said. “You’re able to get a full selection of fruits and vegetables that a store like mine has to be able to offer.”
Arriving at the Philadelphia market, Schieferstein said he likes to park his produce truck at roughly the same bay each Friday morning. He added he has gotten to know various wholesale vendors and built trusting relationships with many of them.
In doing this for so many years, you get to know the vendors and what they’re good at growing, he said.
In recent years, Andrew and Fred began using a portion of the five acres behind their market in Clark to grow vegetables and small fruits. They set up two hoop houses last spring, only to have one of them almost completely destroyed in a wind storm.
Fred said while most of their store products are bought from other growers, they still view their business as a farm.
“If you have a farm in Swedesboro or Vineland, your property is very different than in Union County, It’s not like we don’t want to be farmers. Are you going to say a vertical farm in Newark growing hydroponic lettuce is not a farm? That narrow kind of definition has to be looked at from where exactly the farm is located,” Schieferstein said.
“We’ve been in Union County for 120 years, actively working in the farm business, and I’m sorry the pressure was really put on 80 years ago to sell part of the 55 acres that we originally owned,” he said, noting he and his brother never even knew about the sale of the land until they were well into their teens.
Schieferstein — who works as an accountant in winter months — noted he pays $40,000 a year in property taxes to the township of Clark for the five acres of unpreserved farmland behind the market at 393 Madison Hill Road.
“You do what you have to do to stay viable,” he argued, “if you can reduce my property taxes to maybe $10,000 a year, that would be different. We could spend a lot more time actively growing vegetables in back.”