New Jesey Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher rings the cow bell to mark the official kickoff of the Toms River Farmers Market season. Fisher, who perused the offerings at the Water and Iron Street location, such as corn, beats, tomatoes, a variety of greens, fresh-baked breads and bouquets of flowers,

explains why farmers' markets are important.

"Agriculture is big business in the state and this is one of the things that farmers really rely on which is direct marketing. It's one of the best opportunities for them to derive profit for their farm."

However, Fisher says the markets also provide fresh and affordable nutrition options to every county in the state. "It's satisfying a need, you know, people come out because they have something that's being provided to them that they're looking for and that's access to local fresh foods. And Fisher says New Jersey Farmers are getting creative in what they're offering like unique produce that appeals to New Jersey's vast ethnic community.

Ocean County Freeholder Director Gerry Little says there are 250 farms in Ocean County that use 10,000 acres of land. He says the County's agriculture industry generates over $11 million in revenue annually.

Lisa DeWolf of DeWolf's Farm in New Egypt has been in operation since 1965. She says they operate as a U-Pick Farm growing items like peppers, tomatoes, corn, cabbage, broccoli, peas, cucumbers, pickles, onions and potatoes. DeWolf says they participate in two farmers' markets so far, one in Toms River and the other in Seaside. She says they're planning on taking on a third at the end of the month in Lakehurst.

DeWolf says farmers' markets have been very profitable for them as they increase in popularity. She says they're getting a lot more farmers in and a lot more customers that are happy. She says "we even have everybody come back to our farm."

Toms River Mayor Tom Keleher says the farmers' market has been in operation for seven years and is a cooperation between the township, the county and the business improvement district.

There are 148 markets operating in all counties of the state. For complete information on locations, days and hours of community farmers markets, visit www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh/searches/urban.htm