Each year the USDA proclaims a “National Farmers Market Week” to remind consumers to visit these markets in the summer and fall. August 6-12 this year marks the 24th of this annual celebration that highlights the vital role farmers markets play in our nation’s food system.
According to the NJ Department of Agriculture, there are approximately 140 community farmers markets and 700 independent farmers markets in the state. Farmers who attend these markets sell produce they’ve picked at the peak of ripeness within 24 hours of sale to ensure the best taste and highest quality.
Rutgers University–New Brunswick has two of these seasonal markets that sell Jersey Fresh produce directly to consumers, as well as provide access to nutrition information through Rutgers Cooperative Extension. The Jersey Fresh program was developed in 1984 by the New Jersey Department as a way to identify to consumers produce grown by New Jersey farmers.
The first market to open was the Rutgers Gardens Farmers Market, now known as Cook’s Market, which was established in 2008 at the university’s botanical gardens located off Ryders Lane in New Brunswick. The market operates from May through December and its mission is to provide the local community, including residents, students, university faculty and staff, the opportunity to experience and purchase fresh, locally grown and prepared food products.
Cook’s Market has three farms selling local fresh fruits and vegetables, including produce from the Rutgers Gardens Student Farm, which is grown and harvested right here. Their vendors also produce and sell scratch-made baked goods and breads, honey, craft spirits, hot sauces and jams, gourmet mushrooms, olive oil, all natural soaps, pickles, granola, artisan small batch soups, plants, and cut flower bouquets. The prepared and ready-to-eat foods include Thai cuisine, Jamaican-influenced meals, Indian foods and sauces, and fusion bowls and empanadas. The market is open for business on Fridays from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
The second farmers market at Rutgers is the New Brunswick Community Farmers Market (NBCFM). The NBCFM supports public health nutrition, gardening and access to healthy local food through partnerships with Johnson & Johnson, the City of New Brunswick, City Green, Greater New Brunswick Meals on Wheels, and Rutgers Community Health Foundation. This support allows them to provide ‘Market Buck’ and other incentives that increase purchasing power and expand access to fresh locally grown produce for market customers with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Senior/ Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) benefits.
NBCFM was conceived to serve neighborhoods that have limited access to a variety of nutritious fresh foods and food education. Consumer educators with Rutgers Cooperative Extension help provide on-site information and instruction to reinforce healthy eating habits, economical food budgeting and food safety practices. In addition, the market has involved local residents in multiple ways, through community gardening in the Esperanza Community Garden, growing produce for donation to local food pantries, and growing marigolds for ‘Dia de los Muertos.’ Community gardeners and market staff also keep an apiary, vermicomposting bin and chicken coop with egg-laying hens on site.
It operates from June to November and maintains the original Jones Avenue market and pavilion (open Tuesdays and Saturdays) and the Kilmer Square Park at the corner of George and Albany streets in downtown New Brunswick (open Wednesdays).