BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - For Judy Fagotti, there is something special about the smell of a farm market.
The Vineland resident said the aroma of fresh-picked tomatoes, peppers, melons and other fruits and vegetables is something nostalgic. It takes her back to the produce that her grandfather picked from his backyard garden.
There is something else, too.
"It tastes so fresh," the former teacher said she pushed her small cart around Monday at the Muzzarelli Farms market on Oak Road.
That is just what state Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher wants to hear. And he wants other people - lots of them - to hear it, also.
Fisher was at Muzzarelli Farms as part of a tour of farm markets in Atlantic, Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester counties. His mission was to promote New Jersey produce on sale at farm markets throughout the state at the height of the growing season.
"It's fresh picked," Fisher said as he walked past bins filled with everything from butternut squash to cucumbers to peaches. "You can't get any fresher than this."
There is another reason for Fisher's tour: to promote the state's agriculture industry, which is worth about $1 billion annually to farmers. Fisher said the figure increases significantly when coupled with all the products New Jersey produce helps create.
"It's billions and billions of dollars," Fisher said.
State Agriculture Department spokeswoman Lynne Richmond said there is no telling just how many farm markets and roadside stands sell New Jersey produce during the summer. The best estimate is "a lot," she said, and those markets help New Jersey farmers stay in business.
The last full farm census was done in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That report indicated the state had more than 10,300 farms encompassing more than 733,000 acres.
State agriculture officials said New Jersey produces more than 100 different types of fruits and vegetables. The state's main cash crops continue to be blueberries, peaches and tomatoes, with last year's tomato crop alone totaling about $31 million.
The Muzzarelli family has operated its farm since 1937, and opened its farm market 29 years ago, said owner Charles Muzzarelli.
Asked about the profitability of the farm market operation, Muzzarelli said, "It helps. It's a help."
Muzzarelli said his farm is more of a traditional South Jersey operation and sticks with basic fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes and corn are the crops customers ask for most, he said.
That includes Buena resident Rita Beu, who makes regular trips to area farm markets.
"Everything just tastes better," she said. "You have such a variety."
Contact Thomas Barlas:
Top N.J. crops
New Jersey cash crops in millions of dollars harvested in 2012.
1: Tomatoes, $30.8
2: Bell peppers, $28.8
3: Sweet corn, $23.1
4: Cucumbers, $15.7
5: Summer squash, $15.2
6: Spinach, $12.6
7: Lettuce, $11.4
8: Cabbage, $10.5
9: Pumpkins, $10.3
10: Herbs, $8.9
1: Blueberries, $80.8
2: Peaches, $39.6
3: Cranberries, $29.9
4: Apples, $28.5
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture.