Early in the nineteenth century, an army colonel stood before a crowd at the Salem County Courthouse and ate buckets of tomatoes to prove that they were not poisonous. Ever since, the red vegetable of summer has played a starring role in New Jersey’s history. Although today visitors to the state are more likely to see smoke-spewing factories than acres of farmland or grazing cattle, the state’s legacy of agriculture and farming continues, and extends far beyond the popular Jersey tomato.
In Tending the Garden State, Charles Harrison tells the story of the state’s rich agricultural history from the time when Leni-Lenape Indians scratched the earth with primitive tools up through today. He recalls New Jersey’s rural past, traces the evolution of farming over the course of the twentieth century, and explains innovative approaches to protecting the industry.
Drawing on interviews with farmers, as well as researchers, professional planners, designers, and architects, Harrison discovers that despite the discouraging spread of suburban sprawl, the Garden State’s farming legacy is not as endangered as it may seem. Many residents care deeply about preserving New Jersey’s agricultural industry and are making great strides to keep the tradition alive for future generations. Some of these protective measures include new laws that encourage the conservation of land and research devoted to helping farmers make the most of their limited acreage. Innovative techniques such as high-tunnel farming, together with the growth of some very profitable farm specializations, such as turf grass, aquaculture, horticulture, and wine making, will enable farmers to remain active and successful in the state’s oldest industry.
Anyone interested in New Jersey’s history or, more broadly, in the history of American agriculture, will be delighted by Harrison’s engaging and readable account of farming in the Garden State.