Monday, October 15, 2007

It's New Jersey - who knew?

Look out across the Hudson. Look beyond the industrial wastelands in Newark and Elizabeth, the sprawling monuments to capitalism in Paramus, and even beyond the paragons of suburbia that crowd the landscapes of Bergen, Passaic, Essex and Union Counties. Look about 40 miles inland and keep looking until you get to the Susquehanna River. There you'll find the reason they call New Jersey the Garden State. Hundreds of farms grow vegetables and fruits, raise animals, create various animal by-products and many open their doors to the public on a regular basis.
Just a 25-minute drive from my suburban hamlet takes me out into the rolling hills of Morris County and within easy access of fantastic opportunities to get in touch with nature. This weekend being the first for me in a month that hasn't included a Jewish holiday and/or a trip out of town, I was able to head west to check it all out.
First, on Saturday night I did my very first corn maze. For those unfamiliar, corn mazes involve hapless individuals (or teams) willingly entering an labyrinth made entirely of corn stalks. The farms lay out intricate patterns and have themes that guide both the design of the maze and various clues found therein. We went to a place with a Manhattan theme and absolutely nothing in common with the borough's famed grid system. Two hours later, we emerged - slightly frustrated, rather hungry and with new-found respect for corn stalks.
Then on Sunday, I ventured out to the Valley Shepherd Creamery - the only sheep dairy in the State of New Jersey. Truly an artisinal place of business where they literally do EVERYthing pertaining to the process - they breed the sheep (you should hear the owner's story about bringing sheep semen over from the Netherlands), they raise the sheep, they milk the sheep through a highly-advanced automated system, they slaughter the lambs, they make the cheese, age the cheese, sell the cheese, sell the wool, sell the manure... and the work goes on.
I highly recommend their cheeses - you can get them in their store in Long Valley, at many farmers markets throughout New York and New Jersey, and this year only they are selling a cheese in the Williams-Sonoma catalog.
If none of these options work for you, take an afternoon and check out what IS in your area. Most cities are not so far from working farms and I think it's important that we remember food doesn't come from a grocery store. It comes from the incredibly hard work and dedication of people who do this because they love it. Find organic, artisinal, locally-produced purveyors near you and support them. Visit them. Take classes. Use their products whenever you can (even in favor of organics sometimes since shlepping organics from Florida cancels the earth-saving benefits when a conventional product from New York is available). Get involved. Or, as Nancy Botwin might recommend - grow your own.

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