VINELAND - New Jersey's loyalties are split between a number of sports teams, but local and state officials are continuing to rally residents to support the colors of red, green, yellow and blue.
The Jersey Fresh produce campaign, the longest-running state agriculture branding program in the nation, has begun its 30th year by launching a new athletic-themed tagline: "Another Great Season."
Few sporting organizations can match the diverse skill sets of the state's 10,300 farmers or the ability they demonstrate annually to grow their crops despite adverse conditions.
On Tuesday, state Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher toured farms in Cumberland and Gloucester counties to draw attention to the time of year when many of the more than 100 plant varieties grown in New Jersey start to become available.
"We're always having a great season with something," Fisher said as he walked through A. Pagnini Farms in Vineland.
Many of the state's most productive years in history for certain crops have been in the past decade.
New Jersey produces the fourth-highest quantity blueberries in the United States, and in 2011 it produced more of the fruit than ever before, with 62 million pounds, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Other crops to see record production numbers recently include eggplant in 2009, spinach in 2006 and cucumbers in 2004.
At the same time, while overall production of other crops is down, the amount yielded per acre has peaked recently. That was the case for sweet corn in 2009, bell peppers in 2008 and tomatoes in 2004, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
Andrew Pagnini, a fourth-generation farmer and owner of A. Pagnini Farms, showed Fisher and the rest of the tour group why that's possible, pointing out new sophisticated farming methods and simple tricks that get refined each year.
"It looks easy when you look at it, but there's a lot that goes into it," added Pete Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, who also went on the tour.
After a cool spring, Pagnini said some plants are beginning a little late. He specializes in cilantro, basil and greens, but has a variety of other crops, and his workers pulled up with a truck full of freshly picked leeks as he talked.
"It's hugely important to get the freshest product possible," Pagnini said.
In addition to the new advertising campaign, which has begun in print and will start June 3 with radio advertisements, the state also reworked its Jersey Fresh website, www.JerseyFresh.nj.gov, featuring charts showing what products are available at this time.
As of Monday, farmers around the state were harvesting at least 18 different crops, from arugula and asparagus to kale, strawberries and swiss chard. The turnip harvest will start next week, followed by basil, blueberries and cabbage in mid-June.
In addition to improving yields, farmers have also gotten better at extending their season by creating new products using locally produced produce and employing new methods of greenhouse growing.
At Dooley Farms, the other stop in Vineland on Tuesday's tour, owner John Dooley showed off a few of his 11 greenhouses. In one, workers put stickers on bright red tomatoes and laid them in cardboard containers that read "Premium Jersey Fresh" to be sold at Wegmans Food Markets.
Dooley is able to grow tomatoes in his greenhouses from April to December, producing 200,000 pounds per year. The greenhouses are far from new, but even recent changes such as different hooks to hold up the plants maximize their production.
"Where it really helps us is with insect and disease control," Dooley said about the controlled environment.
This time of year, Dooley said business is great because he can provide his greenhouse tomatoes before field-grown tomatoes are available starting in July. He joked that he isn't as popular then, because everyone is rooting for the freshest product.
"All of the sudden nobody knows me," he said with a slight smile. "Right now, I'm everybody's best friend."
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New Jersey crop update
A sampling of Jersey Fresh product availability, current harvest information and forecast through June:
Arugula: Harvesting a fair volume of high-quality product
Asparagus: Harvesting a good volume of high-quality product
Basil: Should be ready by mid-June
Beets: Harvesting a light volume of product
Blueberries: Minor quantities available in mid-June, with much more available at end of June
Cabbage: Harvesting in mid-June
Cucumbers: Harvest should begin in two weeks
Kale: Harvesting light to fair volume of good-quality product.
Leeks: Harvesting good volume of good-quality product
Lettuce: Harvesting light to fair volume of product
Radishes: Harvesting fair to good volume of good-quality product
Spinach: Harvesting fair volume of good-quality product
Squash: Harvest starting in two weeks
Strawberries: Harvesting fair volume of excellent-quality product
Swiss chard: Harvesting fair volume of very good product
Turnips: Harvest should begin next week
Source: N.J. Department of Agriculture