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South Jersey

Where ‘local’ equals value and endless variety
South Jersey

Tour the fertile South Jersey region, catching up on the hottest growing, buying, and selling trends as the state’s Department of Agriculture celebrates its centennial year. Comprised of the Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem, and southern Ocean counties, this region is bustling with ‘buy local’ demand, multicultural influences, a movement to vertical growing, and celebrating its prime locale.

What’s Hot?
If you ask grower-shippers or wholesalers what’s trending in South Jersey, you get a variety of answers—largely centered around the assortment of fruit and vegetables grown in the eight counties listed above.

Locally Grown: Yep, We Got That
“The local movement is still predominant; everyone wants to sup­port local, regional growers,” says Robert Von Rohr, director of marketing for Glassboro-based Sunny Valley International, Inc., which buys locally and also imports and exports.

According to Al Murray, retiring Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and director of New Jersey’s Division of Marketing and Development, buyers love the interesting heirloom varieties that South Jersey growers are producing. Instead of going to the grocery store and finding only a purple eggplant, customers are enticed by a number of locally grown options such as striped and Chinese varieties of eggplant.

An interesting twist is vertical growing in the area. New Jersey’s entire land base is 4.8 million acres, 700,000 of which are farms, and 2 million forest. With over half the state covered in forest and agriculture, growers have found innovative ways to deal with finite space.

To continue living up to its nickname as the ‘Garden State,’ growers are now “going into industrial cities that are decaying and taking over factories. Instead of growing out, we’re growing up,” Murray explains, with farmers dabbling in vertical greenhouse/warehouses to grow hydroponically.

For Thomas Sheppard, president of Eastern Fresh Growers in Cedarville, it’s all about proximity. He emphasizes the many positives brought about by the ‘buy local’ movement, especially the 56 million people living within 150 miles of South Jersey. For growers, knowing their seasonal crops will be snapped up at farmers’ markets and retailers makes the annual challenges worthwhile.

Dave Budd, former president of Wood-bury’s Gloucester County Packing Company, points out how the state’s marketing program, Jersey Fresh, has been immensely successful in promoting the state’s produce, well beyond state lines.

Bill Nardelli of Nardelli Brothers, Inc. agrees. “Over the past five to ten years, locally grown has taken a strong foothold around the country and our producing areas,” he confirms. This, he notes, benefits Jersey growers and helps them compete against Western suppliers.