Garden State ' s Summer Bounty Makes it Easy to Eat Healthy
By Diane C . Walsh Contributing Editor
Every summer New Jersey shows off why it ’ s called the Garden State . The peaches are plump and mouthwatering . Blueberries are bursting with juice . Corn is sweet from the fields and of course , there nothing like a Jersey Tomato .
If you ’ re headed down the shore for the day or driving to the mountains , you can ’ t resist stopping at a roadside stand for some fresh fruit . On the weekends , downtowns are abuzz with farmers markets . And every day the fruit and vegetable aisles of the supermarkets are overflowing with such variety that healthy meal planning and preparation is easy .
The N . J . Department of Agriculture proudly reports there are more than 140 community farmers markets through the state . “ Farmers markets are a great place for consumers to meet with local growers and learn more about the farm products grown or raised here in the Garden State ,” N . J . Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher said . “ Each market has its own unique way of bringing people together for food and fun .”
There has been a huge uptick in the number of farmers markets since 2000 when a few dozen opened . Consumers have become more diligent about wanting to know where their food is coming from , how it is grown and who is growing it . The ability to interact with local farmers certainly contributes to the popularity of these markets .
Wakefern the largest retailers ’ cooperative of supermarkets is continually working to elevate the produce experience for customers in its six banner stores across the Northeast , including ShopRite , Price Rite Marketplace , The Fresh Grocer , Dearborn Market , Gourmet Garage and Fairway Market .
“ One of the key ways we continue to improve our offerings is by partnering with local farmers in our trading areas ,” said Ross Farnsworth , vice president of produce at Wakefern Food Corp .
“ We are also laser-focused on using bestin-class technology solutions to enable us to source the right amount of product and properly package and deliver produce to stores to ensure that our produce is fresh , available , affordable and provides maximum shelf life for customers while minimizing waste ,” he said .
New Jersey farmers grow more than 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables . Some of the more popular items in August and September include peaches , tomatoes , sweet corn , apples , plums , carrots , cabbage , cucumbers , eggplants , peppers , potatoes and many others .
Delicious healthy meals are easily made from the Garden State ’ s bounty . Tracee Yablon Brenner , a registered dietician nutritionist on staff at Holy Name Medical Center , gives her clients suggestions on how to take advantage of the season ’ s harvest . “ Farmers markets are a great way to shop and eat local produce . And the Garden State has delicious local produce to choose from .”
Brenner is also a graduate of the prestigious culinary program at Johnson & Wales University . Her clients benefit from her unique background as a nutritionist and trained culinary professional .
She encourages clients to freeze the fruits and vegetables that are now available so they can readily enjoy them in the fall . “ Spread them out on a large sheet pan and put them in the freezer for a few hours ,” Brenner suggested . Once the produce is frozen , she said it should be put into freezer bags and carefully labeled and dated .
Gazpacho a flavorful soup made with tomatoes and other vegetables in a blender is
“ Farmers markets are a great place for consumers to meet with local growers and learn more about the farm products grown or raised here in the Garden State ...”
great for summertime , she said . Brenner said there is no better time for the 3Ps plan , purchase and prepare . “ It ’ s so hot you don ’ t want to put the oven on .” Instead , she recommends grilled chicken , salmon or even tuna , over a bowl of rice , farro . Sorghum , or quinoa , or other ancient grain for a tasty and nutritional meal .
Many health insurance plans cover nutritional counseling , especially for people afflicted with digestive disorders , heart disease or diabetes . Brenner said the guidance can be very helpful .
Brenner said she is a “ big fan of grilling your vegetables when you get home from the market .” If grilling is not possible , roasting is the next best thing . Once done , the veggies are easy to add to a salad or a meal in the bowl . They are beautifully paired with fish an easy summer protein , the nutritionist said .
While no summer barbecue is complete without a burger , Brenner recommends going beyond the basic chopped meat variety . Consider adding mushrooms to the patty , she said . It adds vitamins and minerals , plus that umami flavor .
Grate in some zucchini , carrots or yellow squash to your burger or meatball mix for a new kick too . Brenner said the summer season is great to experiment with veggie burgers also . Consider using kale , lentils , or beets . “ Make a few and freeze for a later date ,” she said .
For the Jersey tomato , Brenner has countless possibilities . Toss some into a salad . Add tomatoes to a salsa with mangoes and pineapples . Consider making a salad dressing with tomatoes , oil and vinegar . And roasted or grilled tomatoes , plus some feta cheese pairs easily with pasta for a quick hot-weather meal .
Access to so many delicious fruits and vegetables make is easier for healthy eating choices .
The NJ Agriculture Department promotes eating healthy Jersey Fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the growing season . This includes digital billboards along the state ’ s busy highways , radio advertisements , online placements , distribution of free blueberries , grape tomatoes and peaches on three boardwalks and banners flying along the Jersey Shore during the summer .
Wakefern was one of the first retailers to fully lean into the idea of having a dietitian-led Health & Wellness team to both interact with customers in-store , as well as online via the free chat service available at ShopRite . com .
Farnsworth also explained at the on the corporate side that Wakefern ’ s produce division partners with the dietitian team to identify emerging health and wellness trends and discover new foods and products to introduce to shoppers . “ We also look to our dietitian team to help us promote our products via recipes and promotions on our website and circular .
“ We believe that combining the expertise of our dietitians with the knowledge base of our produce and procurement managers , we can offer customers a truly differentiated and extraordinary shopping experience ,” the vice president said .
For decades the retailers in the Wakefern cooperative have been building and cultivating relationships with local family-owned farmers across its trading area . Farnsworth said : “ We also rely on our produce category managers and buyers who spend a lot of time in the fields , talking to our farmers and suppliers .
“ For us , it ’ s all about relationships , in fact , due to our long-time ties and relationships with growers cross the globe , despite recent tight supplies chains , we ’ re proud to say that we ’ ve been able to keep our aisles and continuously stocks and service our customers with everything they need for their families .”
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