When people start talking about the summer season, it’s inevitable that the iconic Jersey Tomato will come up in the conversation. What makes the Jersey tomato special? Why is it different or better than any other tomato? That question is what sparked my latest produce adventure: find a farmer and reveal exactly what makes it the Garden State’s most famed fruit (yes, it’s technically a fruit, but we all know it’s really a vegetable).
So, the quest began. I set out with my camera and notepad to find an expert, and I didn’t have to go very far. There were three farm stands within a mile of my house, and one of them happened to have the farmer right outside — what luck! I proceeded to strike up the tomato conversation, and Mr. Bob Ferrari of R.J. Ferrari Farms was generous enough to offer his time and plethora of knowledge to a curious customer.
Bob, his daughter, and granddaughter told us all about their 300-acre family-run farm in Vineland. Bob, an 80 years young active farmer, stated that he was born and raised in the farm house behind the produce stand. In the spring, they plant multiple varieties of lettuce, cabbage, herbs, leeks, and squash. Come summer, they add eggplant, hot peppers, Daikon radish, and tomatoes to the mix.
There it is: tomatoes. They sell most of their crops wholesale, loading crates up in trucks that head up and down the East Coast, from Massachusetts to Florida — but their tomatoes are special.
Bob and his granddaughter alone care for the tomato fields. The grandfather/granddaughter duo tend the tomatoes daily, picking them only when perfectly ripe, and hauling baskets out to their vintage pickup-truck-turned-farm-stand. When I asked Bob why the tomatoes are reserved only for them to pick, he said that all the money they make from the stand goes directly to his granddaughter’s college fund (heart melts).
So now that we know all about Bob’s farm, it’s time to get down to business. What makes the Jersey tomato so iconic? Bob unveiled the truth — they’re red through and through. When you slice into them, they’re mostly tomato rather than all seeds. The texture is perfect, not grainy. They’re juicy and sweet. They can be eaten like an apple with a dash of salt, cut thin in a sandwich with mayo and cheese on white bread, or used to make sauce. Lots of sauce. Any way you slice it, the Jersey tomato deserves all the cred. It is indeed the BEST.
Want to grow your own? Bob says that tomato plants need plenty of sun, but not so much water. This has been a wet growing season, and the tomatoes grew too fast, causing scar rings around the tops. Tend to them daily, picking only when ripe and deep red.
Are you ready to till your Jersey soil and start your own tomato garden? If not, farmers like Bob all over the state have gorgeous crimson spheres of goodness waiting for you, whether at a local farm stand or a grocer that support Jersey Fresh.
What a wonderful opportunity it was to shake the hand that feeds me; working hands ingrained with fertile Jersey soil; to hear stories of growing seasons, neighborhood customers who stop by each week to load up on local produce, and families who care about their kids and community. New Jersey is unique and we need to appreciate its greatness. Get out there and support your local farmer!
Check out these recipes for your Jersey tomatoes: