Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Jersey Fresh Experience at Alstede Farms

Though a few of my friends had told me about the opportunity to gather fresh fruit and vegetables at local New Jersey farms, only this summer did I get to try it out. Choosing from close to 100 farms, I picked out Alstede Farms for two reasons: it offered all produce I was interested in, and the farm's website was clear and informative, so I knew exactly what to expect when it came to assortment, activities and prices (some of the other websites I visited suggested to call them for prices and availability). As it turned out, I made the right choice. I went for a ride in a hay wagon, filled my containers with fresh fruit and vegetables, petted donkeys, goats and rabbits, saw other farm animals, babies and adults, shopped at the farm store, tried homemade farm food and even brought some recipes home! In other words, in addition to a car load of fresh produce, the trip also left me with great memories of an authentic farm experience.

As soon as I arrived at the farm, I paid the admission fee ($6.99 / per person on weekends) and had my containers weighed for picking. The website recommended to bring containers from home, and I did so, although they did sell quarts for 10 cents and boxes for $2 in case visitors didn't come prepared. After checking in, I was free to wander around the farm or get right to picking. The farm's staff was welcoming and helpful, answering any questions with a smile. There was also a table with homemade foods to taste for free near the entrance. All the samples I tried were delicious and came with recipes. Thus, not only did I have a good time, I also learned something new. 

Off the hay wagon!
Having snacked on the offerings, I lined up for the hay wagon ride. It was not just entertainment, as I had thought. The hay wagons took visitors around the farm, so they did not have to walk around the fields. Every stop had different crops the drivers announced beforehand. I cannot imagine getting around without the hay wagons. I would have gotten lost and most certainly felt tired, which would have spoiled my overall impression. Another great idea on the farmers' part was to leave metal carts around the farm. At first I thought they belonged to other pickers, but since they were often left unattended, I helped myself to one, especially that my containers were getting heavier with blueberries, raspberries, peaches and tomatoes I gathered on my way. 

Picking up raspberries, in particular, reminded me of my maternal grandfather. When I was little, he would often take me raspberry picking in his garden. He would always remind me to break up each berry to make sure no worms were hiding inside. Visiting Alstede Farms, I thought of my childhood and of all children who grow up in big cities and never experience nature, never know what raspberries are supposed to look and taste like. I also thought that even if one lives in a big city, he or she can always create opportunities. Nature is all around us, and, if we make the slightest effort, we can touch, feel, taste and smell it. 

Though picking was supposed to end at 6 pm, according to the farm's schedule, we were politely warned in advance that the last wagons are picking people up at 6:30 pm. With that said, the staff was pretty lenient about dropping visitors off at picking stops close to that time, so we did not feel pressured to leave. 

Having paid for all of my picked goods by pound (the prices for their stuff are pretty good, considering that one is buying organic, locally-grown produce), I still had time to walk around, take colorful pictures and buy a few more things in the farm store. In addition to fruit and vegetables, they also sold homemade jams, maple syrup, fresh eggs, milk, and even homemade wine from a nearby winery. Hence, I did all my grocery shopping for the following two weeks in one place and felt great about it, especially because I got to pick up most of it from the ground and the trees myself. 

To sum it all up, I'd recommend visiting Alstede Farms for a number of reasons. Eating organic, natural-sized foods would be the main one. Some of the peaches were thick-skinned, but they were the juiciest I've ever tasted. The flavor of raspberries reminded me of my childhood, the taste I had been looking for - in vain - in a box of Driscolls, even organic ones. In addition, whether you had been on a farm or not, you might still experience something new, like petting a rabbit, or sitting on a pile of hay. And, finally, it is always good to simply reconnect with nature and, through getting your hands dirty, feel liberated and more appreciative of the food you consume and the world you are living in. 

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