Jersey tomatoes are hot items

June 12, 2008 4:01:28 PM PDT
"The demand's more than what we can handle." Nick Russo of the Orchard Lane Farm in Chesterfield has been growing 16 greenhouses full of tomatoes, but you'd think his crop was gold.

"It's put the bind on us. I've heard from people we never heard from before looking into our product. Of course, we already have established customers so they come first."

The Russo family runs a produce store in Burlington County and also has a stand at the Trenton Farmers Market.

This week tomato crops from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware were deemed safe from any connection to the salmonella scare, and business is booming for farmers like the Russos, since many consumers are turning away from grocery stores to local farms like theirs.

Nikki Russo says "People have been calling nonstop asking for tomatoes. A lot of restaurants and wholesalers are in desperate need of tomatoes."

Joshua Higgins of Lawrence Township says he won't buy supermarket tomatoes. "No, not the roma. I wouldn't. I buy them here because I know where they came from.

New Jersey farmers say the salmonella outbreak is a good argument for buying locally grown produce. These tomatoes are maturing in sterile soil under highly controlled conditions.

"Not transporting, not been in storage, it's fresh every day," says Russo.

The the last of the hothouse tomatoes will be ripe and picked within a week or two. Then the focus will be on Jersey's famous field-grown tomatoes.

Until then the greenhouse tomatoes are flying off the shelves and business for farmers filling the void left by the salmonella scare is, "Wonderful!," Russo says, " Yes, wonderful for sure!"