Kale, blueberries, lavender: Specialty NJ crops separate farmers from the pack
Emery's Berry Patch isn't just on any piece of land in New Egypt. The spot was strategically chosen for the quality of soil, offering optimum conditions for the development and harvesting of blueberries.
That's been their specialty crop for the past 64 years. Twenty acres feature up to 10 varieties of blueberries in the summer months. Customers arrive to pick their own, and they're taken by wagon to whichever fields can offer the best haul that day.
"What we really choose to do is allow our fruit to ripen fully," said owner John Marchese. "What that means is that we allow the fruit to get the highest Brix level. The Brix level is the sweetness, the nutrient sugar content of the fruit."
Emery's is among a special class of growing operations in New Jersey that are hyper-focused on one crop or a certain area of crops. They're not in line with the routine corn and tomato output that New Jersey is famous for. Instead, they answer the other needs of hungry New Jerseyans, and they arguably do it better than anyone else.
"There are some farms that specialize just in certain niche crops," said Liz Thompson, a research associate with the New Jersey Farm Bureau. "They found that that's what they're best at or that they have a specific market that they're reaching out to."
In Morganville, Pleasant Valley Lavender lets visitors cut their own aromatic bouquets or take home handcrafted soaps and bath products made from the farm's fields of English and French lavender.
7th Heaven Farm in Tabernacle prides itself as New Jersey's first and only soy-free and corn-free farm, selling non-GMO meats and eggs.
Healthy and clean eating is the driver behind Beyond Organic Growing in Freehold. The vertical farm produces specialty greens and herbs not typically found in the grocery store.
"We do three different kinds of kale," said owner Theresa Reid. "Most people don't realize — they just buy 'kale' — but there's Siberian kale, White Russian kale, Scarlet kale."
The menu also consists of several types of lettuce.
The farm handles walk-in customers and a handful of restaurants from Freehold to Point Pleasant Beach.
"If you're eating organic, you're coming here," Reid said. "I could see the trend coming for the past couple years, so I knew this was going to take off."
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at Dino.Flammia@townsquaremedia.com