Though typically an activity associated with Autumn, my husband and I felt that apple picking would be an appropriate activity to celebrate Friday the 13th, as there are only two this year and the other falls in December when temperatures are less kind in this part of the Garden State, which tend to restrict outdoor adventures. When I was younger my father would take my sister and I up to a farm somewhere in norther New Jersey, where there seemed to be endless rows of trees teeming with apples that had been dropped in the middle of the sprawling scenery where the leaves reflected the changing seasons. We were instructed to strictly pick fruit off the ground that was not bruised, spoiled or crawling with bugs, and then spent the next hour or so hunting down the best pieces. Being children, I am sure we disobeyed the rules and plucked an apple or two off the tree when no one was looking, and eventually we filled a few baskets which were brought back to the stand to be sorted and paid for. Many of the apples wound up going to my grandmother who used them to make cake, pie, sauce and a few other things, though to me it was a chance to be doing something fun. Even if I was occasionally grossed out by the things I found on apples.
Since this was many decades ago and we live in a much different part of the state, we consulted Google as we often do when we are searching for local ventures. First you have to find farms that even offer pick-your-own, as many just sell the produce they grow or offer a limited amount of crops that are subject to short lifespans, such as strawberries which were gone before the end of Spring. There were none in the immediate area, so we went over a few counties and complied a list of the farms that had apple picking, then went back to see which varieties were available. While not particularly picky about apples, neither of us are fans of certain types and wanted to avoid spending the time to travel if they were the only ones accessible. This narrowed our decision down to just a couple, then mutually selected Duffield’s Farm Market.
The history behind this quaint farm and market spans over eighty years, family owned and operated which is becoming increasingly rare in a society ruled by corporations. In the beginning, fruits and vegetables were raised on the land that had been purchased in the 1930’s, which went on to be sold in neighboring Philadelphia. Additional land was purchased twenty years later, though there was difficulty supporting the family and that is when strawberries started to be peddled from their front porch. Demand grew and a small market was constructed where various fruits and vegetables were available for sale. Several expansions have brought Duffield’s Farm Market to the store that it is today, providing fresh produce, baked goods and deli items to all who walk through its doors. They also have facilities to host parties, offer hayrides for every season and even educational field trips where schools and large groups of children can experience fresh scenic farmland.
When most people hear the word farm, they picture flat fields out in the Midwest filled with towering cornstalks and very rarely see New Jersey as a major source of the nation’s fruits and vegetables. They would likely be surprised by the fact that we are ranked in the top ten producers of cranberries, blueberries, apples, tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet corn, just to name a few. There is also a significant amount of vineyards that have developed award-winning wines, which is something else people don’t often associate with Jersey. We have seen many vines set up in rows while driving through various towns and always see the shelves stocked with the local vintners brews, the Jersey Devil Port by Valenzano being one of my favorites. Summer brought fresh produce into our diet, and I know that it is sold at the supermarket, but knowing you are eating something that someone grew in the dirt fifteen minutes away from your house somehow tastes a million times better than something that is sitting on a shelf.
Earlier this afternoon, we made our way to Sewell, the drive marked with the usual passing through diverse towns, ranch style houses and farm fields sitting next to industrial buildings and shopping plazas. When we arrived at Duffield’s I was immediately filled with excitement and the urge to start snapping photos. My husband went inside to purchase the bag we would be using to collect apples, and also had to pay for a pair of round trip tickets on the hay ride that would be taking us out to the orchard. The tractor left right as he came back outside and the next one would not be leaving for about half an hour, so we wandered around to check out some of the other buildings. He then reminded me there were animals, so we went over to the pen where they were being kept, wondering if we would be able to pet them. That question was quickly answered when we saw the double fence, though I understand the need since not all children are so good at gently petting animals or understanding when they want to be left alone. The goats were my favorite [though being a Capricorn, I may be a bit biased] and one of them even stood up on its hind legs to loudly bleat at us.
After having our fill of the animals [even having traveled and worked in the same tent with them is not enough for me to be keen on the way they smell], we sat at one of the picnic benches to drink our coffee. Though it was not a particularly chilly day, apple picking is not complete without a warm beverage, so we had stopped at Wawa on the way to pick some up. Finally the tractor returned, each kid with at least one apple in hand while their guardians struggled with apple stuffed bags. We were one of the last groups to go out but did not mind since there were only a few other people, increasing our chances of picking good fruit. There had been no instruction of where the fruit could be picked from, and when we arrived at the orchard, we were merely shown the signs marking the different trees before being told there was about twenty minutes to fill our bags. For some reason most of the group went right; we wanted Honey Crisp apples and headed for those trees. Unfortunately many of their apples were already on the ground, sadly rotting away – there were even ones on the trees that had dark spots. The trees to the left had some better looking fruit, so we went over there instead and managed to fill our bag in about ten minutes. Before getting back on the hay ride we stood under a tree and tested one of the apples, then realized we were the last ones in the orchard.
In all we paid a little over $20 for the hay rides and a little over half a bushel of apples, which calculates into approximately sixteen pounds. Not bad for the first pick of the season, and we may return there in Autumn for pumpkin picking.