New Jersey Farm Fresh

The world of farming and harvesting opens up at many New Jersey farms and wineries. Visitors can get an inside look at how farmers work to provide food for millions of Americans.

Some New Jersey farms and wineries offer visitors far more than berry picking and wine tasting. They also help explain one of life's great mysteries: how just three million American farmers can provide ever-improving food to the nation's other 297 million residents.

Few modern Americans know the fascinating answers to basic questions. Why do farmers often surround crops with plastic? What determines an egg's color? How does weather affect flavor? Abma's Farm in Wyckoff regularly answers such questions with spring walking tours and fall hay rides that both visit the vegetable fields, the chicken coup and the composting site.

Lee Turkey Farm in East Windsor provides several different tours from July to October. Some focus exclusively on fruits and vegetables, others add the farm's turkeys and bees. The Howell Living History Farm in Hopewell Township contrasts these modern farms by displaying technology circa 1900, when 40 percent of workers needed to farm instead of 2 percent today.

These farm tours stay family friendly, but winery tours, on the other hand, court adults. Local wine growers argue that their tours, usually given by an actual winemaker, beat the big names in California, where crowds force growers to hire guides who know little more than memorized speeches. Wine lovers who want to know more can try the tours at Ventimiglia Vineyard in Wantage, Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes and Sharrott Winery in Winslow. A typical tour might explain which grape varietals grow best in which climates, how heat and rain and soil affect the grapes and why those differing qualities make wine distinctive. Visitors will also learn of the delicate balance of art and science in making choices like when, exactly, to pick each year's product.

Folks who want cheese as well as wine can learn of the increasingly sophisticated craft behind America's fast improving artisinal cheese at Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley or Bobolink Dairy and Bakeyard in Milford. All discuss the seemingly endless adjustments that allow just three basic ingredients - milk, rennet and bacteria - yield everything from Brie to Parmesan. Valley Shepherd, appropriately, specializes in sheep's milk cheese.

Even more specialized - and special to New Jersey - are the farms that cluster around the Pinelands region and produce a substantial percentage of all the world's cranberries. Fox's Cranberries in Weekstown gives tours daily in October, when the berries are ready for harvest.