Whether it's in a supermarket or roadside stand, fresh vegetables are filling up the plates of many, but who exactly is feeding us this New Jersey Fresh produce?
Local farmers throughout the state spend their lives growing fresh corn, tomatoes, cantaloupe, blueberries, cucumbers, whatever their specialty, and distribute to supermarkets where they are purchased and brought home.
But there is more than meets the eye for state produce, and reaches hundreds of thousands of other consumers that happens behind the scenes, including retirement and nursing homes, school districts, and private schools, according to Adam Grafton, a senior corporation executive chef involved in distribution programs taken from local farms.
Flik Lifestyles is one sector out of four that specializes in producing food using Jersey grown produce.
Lifestyles is one sector under Compass Groups Chefs — an organization that uses homegrown produce. Lifestyles solely focuses on the senior community in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic Region of the country.
"We are concentrating on enriching the lives of seniors every day," Grafton said Wednesday.
A major program is called IDP — Imperfectly Delicious Produce. IDP takes perfectly usable produce that is not capable of sales because of a bruise, or shape malady, or slightly damaged vegetables.
"We want to rescue produce and as a company, we've got an opportunity to take something made locally, and work hand-in-hand with local farmers," Grafton said.
Specifically, the four sectors under Compass include Morrison Community Living, Chartwells K12, Eurest and Flik Lifestyles.
Under Compass Group North America, there are 20 sectors.
It's not an easy economy for farmers, according to Grafton and two years ago, he stopped by Cassaday Farms realized a new ability to keep it green and local.
Cassaday Farms, located in Monroeville at the boarder of Upper Pittsgrove, is just one of a handful of farms to deliver imperfect produce to Lifestyles' produce house based in New York for specialized distribution and consumption, like senior care facilities.
"It doesn't go to waste and the farmers can sell at a reasonable price, and the produce can go into salads, soup, a lot of applications for it," Grafton said.
"It's about locally sourcing — really doing the best we can to purchase good produce and partner with families," Grafton continued.
Companies make it their business to make more of Jersey Fresh produce
Not only do partnerships like this benefit farms, it also allows the consumers to know where their food is actually coming from and validate the high quality.
Ambroji, a New Jersey farm in Thorofare, is also a produce supplier and has been working with Lifestyles' for the past few years as well.
"People want to know where their food comes from. We wanted to take it out of the field and utilize it." Scott Gardo, with Abroji, said.
Lifestyles' Division President Dan Fedro stated Wednesday that it is important for the seniors who eat the vegetables to be aware of where their food is grown, as well as the farmers who know how their hard work is paying off.
"The end result of the plate is powerful. This produce is touching children, executives, college students, and elders," Fedro added.
Farmers take pride in their work, Fedro said, and the end product is very heartfelt.
"You just see the passion," he said, adding that the process is educational and allows the food company to go out to the facilities and see where they are getting the food they utilize.
"It's important to know where your food is coming from and that it's coming from here, a local farm, and going to seniors to eat. It's enriching their lives," Fedro said.
George Cassaday, of Cassaday Farms, said the produce they grow — corn, tomatoes, just about everything but herbs — travels across the country, sometimes even to the Caribean Islands.
"You know where it's coming from, it's picked fresh and taste better," Cassaday said.
In honor of this Monroeville farm, an appreciation luncheon was held and meals were demonstrated using their own produce grown in the back yard.
Nearly 100 farm employees enjoyed Jersey Fresh meals.
"This is becoming a tradition for us, for all the incredible work these farmers do," Fedro said.