Readers of my nature blogs for the Packet and Princeton Patch know that I have a passion for food grown nearby by New Jersey (and some Pennsylvania) farmers.
That I find it essential not only gastronomically, but morally, to support those who plant, harrow, weed, harvest and sell the legendary products of this state.
That I find it unconsionable that so-called food (for what nutrients, let alone flavor, remain after those journeys?) travels an average of 1600 miles to reach our tables when we buy from most supermarkets.
Therefore, I eschew supermarkets, seeking out farm markets, for 9/10 of my food shopping.
Imagine my shock today- at the dear Drake farmstand on Route 518 to the west of Princeton- to experience rage and even bullying in two sets of customers, as I was on my weekly local-quest.
One woman literally elbowed me out of the way at the counter, after I had chosen my key New Jersey food- tomatoes. It was a beautiful morning, and I was in a great mood.
I was about to come home with some of New Jersey's savory best. I had home-smoked bacon from the Pennsylvania Dutch ready to prepare for this fruit that is more precious to me than any rubies, and some hearty seed-studded rye bread.
My latest invention is BST's -- bacon, spinach (leaves) and tomato sandwiches. Try them, you'll like them.
I smiled at The Elbower urging her, "Go ahead. I an NOT in a hurry."
She took over the entire counter, without so much as a thank you. The girl behind the counter asked, "Do you want all these tomatoes?" Not until I unpacked did I realize, the Elbower had appropriated all my careful choices.
I came home with the luxuries, --burstingly ripe pink tomatoes, hefty golden ones. But the luscious New Jersey reds such as I used to grow in my garden, are somewhere in the kitchen of a very difficult woman.
Before I had returned to the counter with big-shouldered peaches, hefty multicolored zinnias, and other glowing items I'd selected while the cross one made her purchases, another car drove up.
That woman, aided and abetted by her man, scolded the farmwoman behind the counter, "You have a mess here!"
I turned in shock. This customer was referring to remnants of this morning's rain, puddles, in front of the farm counter. Scarce rain. Essential rain. A natural phenomenon without which 2/3 of our country is severely imperiled right now. Rain without which food prices and some gasoline will skyrocket, and even famine can occur.
This woman was badgering the one who plants, harrows, weeds, harvests and sells New Jersey's treasures.
Then he barked that her tomato prices were too high.
I'm admitting to my readers, I am ashamed of myself. Too many years at the hands of nuns tied my tongue.
Why on earth didn't I say, "You'll go to Wegman's and Whole Foods and pay any price, bear any burden for produce that's traveled 1600 miles. You should be GLAD there are still working farms in New Jersey!"
I never get over, year after year, seeing California strawberries as the key produce at Whole Foods, during the peak of New Jersey's strawberry season.
So I'm saying to you what did not occur to me until the drive home.
Be shocked with me.
Go out and shop at your nearest and dearest farm stand, whether you need anything or not.
Do this every week, until the killing frosts. And the Trenton Farmers Market stays open at least weekends all year, with marvelous local foods.
I apologized to the farmstand woman for these rudenesses.
She looked so sad, revealing, "I take this kind of abuse every day."
She went on to tell me what I know, "Our tomatoes have been this price for over five years. You know, we have 1000 tomato plants. I planted each one by hand."
I know this woman plants the zinnias herself, beside the stand. That she cuts and arranges the bouquets each morning, for all of us who need some soft real non-commercial floral beauty in our lives.
I told the farmsand woman "I've brought home tomatoes and peaches lately, --because I happened to be there- from the Pine Barrens and from Pennsylvania Dutch markets. They cannot hold a candle to yours!"
I forgot that her corn is the sweetest and tenderest ever - in a time when my sister in the Midwest cannot even buy any, when all their corn is brown or black or never even formed a cob. I've just finished two ears that didn't even need salt, they were so fully corn-flavored!
It was joy to arrange her rainbow of zinnias in a sturdy pottery pitcher from my former summer haven, Chatham, Mass.
But you all know, my real summer haven is New Jersey.
Not only for its beauty, for its remaining wild places.
But especially for the flavor and glory of its foods.
Support our local farmers!
It's good for your health, and that of the planet.