If you’ve ever wondered how to get the most from local farmers markets, tune into NJ Fresh! – a new series debuting on New Jersey Network (NJN) this month.  You’ll see the best Garden State farmers markets, and how top chefs use their bounty to prepare “farm to table” meals.
This past summer, NJN news crews visited several Garden State farmers markets to explore the connection between people and local food and land. You’ll learn how Jersey fresh produce is grown, where to find it, and how to parlay your produce into mouthwatering dishes.
The first episode features the Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance (HLTA) Farmers Market at the preserved Dvoor Farm in Flemington, which sells only locally grown and produced products.  Viewers will also see why organic farming makes a difference: at Comeback Farm in the Musconetcong Valley and at Bobolink Dairy, where grass-fed, free-range cows produce milk for a variety of cheeses.  Air dates:  11/9 (9:30 p.m.); 11/11 (2 a.m.); 11/13 (5:30 p.m.); and 11/14 (3:30 p.m.).
Episode 2 takes us to the Burlington County Farmers Market in Moorestown, which includes community gardens; and stops at local farms featuring sheep shearing, honey production, specialty organic crops such as heirloom tomatoes, and even a large crop of fragrant lavender plants.  Air dates:  11/16 (9:30 p.m.); 11/20 (5:30 p.m.); 11/ 21 (3:30 p.m.); and 11/23 (7 p.m.).
The third episode was filmed on opening day at the Collingswood Farmers Market in Camden County, which was voted "America's Favorite Farmers' Market" in a 2009 American Farmland Trust contest. There’s also a side trip to the A.T. Buzby Farm in Salem County.  Air dates:  11/23 (9:30 p.m.); 11/28 (11:30 p.m.); 11/30 (7 p.m.); 12/11 (5:30 p.m.); and 12/12 (3:30 p.m.).
The fourth and final episode features the Sussex Farmers Market and visits to two area farms: Dana Ray Farm, where free-range chickens roam, and Spring House Dairy, which hosted a cheese-making demonstration.  Air dates:  12/14 (9:30 p.m.); 12/18 (5:30 p.m.); 12/19 (3:30 p.m.); and 12/21 (7 p.m.).
The number of farmers market in this state we’re in is growing by leaps and bounds.  Drive around New Jersey and you’ll see farmers markets in towns where there weren’t any before.  In 2004 there were 40 farmers markets in New Jersey; by this year, the number had jumped up to about 140.
New Jersey farmers grow more than 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables, all fresh and available at farmers markets.  Some offer dairy products, eggs, poultry and meat, as well as herbs, flowers and plants.  Farmers markets are a win-win:  allowing consumers direct access to fresh produce at prices often lower than those at supermarkets, and allowing farmers direct access to consumers and higher profit margins.
Even if you’ve never been to a farmers market, you win.  Farm markets help keep agriculture profitable for farmers, keeping them in business and allowing the public to reap a host of environmental rewards.  Farmers markets also cut pollution because buying produce close to where it’s grown - and close to where you live - means less gas is used to get you and your broccoli together. 
If you don’t find all of this compelling, how about this:  a N.J. Department of Agriculture report estimates that for every dollar spent at agricultural tourism attractions, like farmers markets, another 58 cents is spent on related local economic activity like restaurants, insurance and more. In 2006, the contribution to the state economy by farmers markets and associated activities totaled $33.3 million. Four years later, the numbers are sure to have increased markedly.
Be sure to tune in to NJ Fresh! and get turned on to farmers markets near you! All episodes will be available online at www.njn.net/njfresh during the week they are airing. For a list of farmers markets, go to www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh.
And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.