HIGHLANDS – With farmer’s markets in this community, Atlantic Highlands, Red Bank and more, it’s easy to find fresh fruits and vegetables this time of year and know they’re coming from New Jersey soil and tended by New Jersey farmers. But there’s an added benefit to these community markets open one day a week, that can’t be measured in dollars, savings, or freshness. It’s called camaraderie.
Stopping at the Farmers Market at Huddy Park between Bay Avenue and Shore Drive in Highlands is like meeting old friends, learning new things, and picking up such unique items as mozzarella cheese being made right before your eyes, Italian cookies in three different flavors (including anisette) from a generations old recipe, sampling some mighty hot and delicious sauce (he’s got 13 varieties, and they are lined up from mild to wild!) and vegetables so fresh from the ground you can smell the soil!
The two anchors at the Highlands Farmers Market are farmers who have been there for 27 years, arriving every year at the beginning of the Saturday seasons in June and staying through until the last day, which this year is Nov. 20, just before Thanksgiving. Hours are really 8:30 am to 2 p.m., but don’t wait til the last minute….lots of times each of the stands has been known to sell out early!.
The Farmer’s Markets are Fresh Pick Farms, a family owned and operated business by Bill (Pop to the grandchildren) Vaclavicek, and Hauser Hill Farms, with John and Midge Hauser at the helm.
The Hauser Farm is huge, a certified Jersey Fresh family owned business, and a family heavily involved with the Rutgers University Extension Service in Middlesex County. They also work on the Rutgers Strawberry project and some other fascinating horticultural exhibits and projects. The Hausers offer plenty of fruits, flowers and produce, but also bring along some great fresh brown eggs and honey. Lots of times there is some homemade pie as well, but even if they don’t have it, some of the other stands at the Highlands Market do. Hauser Hill Farms has a website worth checking out and a wonderful farm at 336 Ticetown Rd. in Old Bridge. But check out their very busy stand on the Bay Avenue side of the Highlands Market.
Took a few minutes to chat with Bill Vaclavicek at his Fresh Pick Market stand and learned an awful lot about vegetables. He really didn’t know exactly how many different vegetables he grows on the 40 acres he owns, plus the additional 20 acres he leases. But he does know for sure…as do his grandchildren….he doesn’t grow okra! Why not? The younger generation will laugh and answer that question quickly! “You can’t get anybody to pick it!” The vegetable might be popular in Mississippi, might be high in minerals, vitamins and others good things, but it’s also slimy and thorny to pick, which makes you wonder why one of its names is Ladies Fingers. But that’s another story.
Bill has plenty of other vegetables, all home grown, including huge onions, vibrant green and white celery, even beets, together with plenty of fruits grown in his friend’s orchards along with all kinds of berries from blue to straw. Both markets have the best Jersey beefsteak and other varieties of tomatoes, and you cut calories just by enjoying the colors and fragrances of so many great vegetables.
Back to the mozzarella. Another family business, the A&B Bakery which has been a part of Bergen County for more than 34 years. Owners Annette and Barry Breckenridge live in Seaside now, but they’ve been a part of the Highlands Farmers Market for ten years or so, and Barry whips up that cheese in front of your eyes. He’ll tell you unabashedly it’s the tender loving care he gives to the high quality curds he insists for his product, but when he grins and hands you a chuck fresh hot from the cream you know he’s got plenty of sweetness both in and out of the cheesemaking. While Barry skillfully cuts, stirs, mixes, forms, and wraps his cheeses…..you set the size, he’ll set the price and it’ll be warm in your hands, it’s so fresh from the curds and cream…..his wife Annette is explaining all of her baked goods at the adjacent table. This hard working and very talented couple also are raising six kids, half of whom have picked up their parents’ talents, the other half either share some of them, or simply like the fact there’s so much talent in the family! Annette makes all the pies, cakes, cookies, tarts and breads some from family recipes; some, like a blueberry and lemon pie which was scooped up by a buyer early in the morning, something new she decided to try on her own. The oldest recipe is her great grandmother’s, a true Italian recipe for butter cookies in three different flavors, vanilla, lemon, and anisette! The pies and tarts are both single and family size, the cakes and other dough recipes filled with nuts, fruits, sugars, and so much more. The breads are varied, including some great herbal breads Annette will explain has several herbs and “just a touch of rosemary,” hinting this herb might sometimes make the difference between great and outstanding. They have the sausage for their breads homemade and their fruits are all organic. The Pina colada seemed to be a favorite this past Saturday morning.
At the other side of the Market, Born to Hula attracts a crowd with his many varieties of sauces, and his great knowledge of everyone of them. Highlands resident Ed Becholtz named his business after a favorite song of his from Queen of the Stone Age. While the music might not be among my favorites, his host sauces are outstanding! Love how he has them lined up from mild to wild, so you know what you’re getting in for. Then there’s also mustard, a very unique crab salsa a friend from Delaware makes. And yes, it has crab in it and is a great dip with chips. Ed’s been in the business for more than ten years, has pretty cheap prices in quality bottled sauces, and has been part of the market for at least seven years.
It isn’t all about food here, either, so on the Shore Drive side of the Market, settled comfortably under some beautiful trees, you’ll find artist Linne A. Grant and a broad array of terrific artistry from postcards to large prints, all the product of her own genius and talent, all signifying different things important to her. Besides the one of a kind gifts and framed work she has for sale ask if she has her ‘Covid’ paintings with her so you can appreciate the depth and breadth of her talent and her love for color.
Twenty-eight years ago, there weren’t that many farmers markets around. But it was the mid-90s, and the Neighborhood Preservation Program in Highlands thought it would be a great idea…..anybody remember Kathy Shaw and all her talents? Then the Highlands Business Partnership was in the formative years, and the NPP turned managing the market over to them, as their own program was nearing completion. And it’s been one of the great programs of the partnership since then. For several many years, they promoted the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP), a program that serves eligible individuals aged 60 or older. The WIC program serves WIC-eligible pregnant women, new mothers, and children under age 4. Over the course of years, the Partnership worked with former Highlands Rec Director, Tim Hill and the county Office on Aging to provide senior vouchers that could be used at the market. That program kind of faded away, and the present mayor Carolyn Broullon has been working with the County to get the vouchers back. The good news is she was successful this year so the vouchers are in use at the Market.this season, are are processed by Jacqui Kane, the current rec coordinator. Eligible seniors receive $30 in vouchers to use with both Farmers.