Joseph F. Berenato
NJDA Secretary at Sam Mento Farms
HAMMONTON—On July 14, New Jersey Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher as well as other state and local officials visited Sam Mento Farms at 996 14th St.
“This is National Blueberry Month, and what better place to be than a blueberry farm in the middle of Atlantic County, where we’re in the midst of these blueberry bushes growing fabulous fruit that people so much enjoy?” Fisher said.
Fisher said that blueberries are the state’s largest fruit crop.
“We have 9,300 acres, and $85 million worth of blueberries are shipped out of New Jersey each year, and we are a big producing state. This is the Blueberry Capital of the World,” Fisher said.
Fisher and others spoke briefly about the importance of the blueberry to the economy and the culture of the area. Sam Mento III, owner of the farm, also provided a tour of the blueberry fields and of his packing facility, describing the growing process that begins with small sticks made from bush cuttings, how those sticks eventually grow into full-sized bushes, and how the fruit those bushes yields finds its way into stores.
New Jersey Senator Dawn Addiego (D-8) was also in attendance, and noted that roughly 80 percent of the state’s blueberries are grown in Atlantic County by 56 farms, most of which are in or near Hammonton. Addiego said that “growers like Sam Mento play significant roles in strengthening the economic climate of New Jersey.”
“Their activities are diffuse throughout the economy, touching nearly every aspect of life throughout Atlantic County and beyond. One of New Jersey’s greatest gifts is the modern blueberry. Persevering farmers in and around Hammonton have found a way to harvest these bountiful crops in the Pine Barrens’ harsh environment ... here, the blueberry is more than just history. It’s an industry, it is a tradition and it is a life’s purpose. Hammonton makes and the world takes,” Addiego said.
Atlantic County Commissioner-at-Large Caren Fitzpatrick addressed the importance of family-owned farms.
“As a lifelong South Jerseyan, I know that we are the garden of the Garden State, and it’s family-owned farms that make us that. We owe a lot to family-owned farms for contributing so much to our local economies ...Without you, our economy would not be what is, our workers would not be what they are, and our culture here in Atlantic County would not be what it is,” Fitzpatrick said.
Also on hand was Councilman Jonathan Oliva, who said that agriculture is the “backbone of our community.”
“Farmers like Sam, his family and various farmers in our community are a big reason why our town is as successful as it is. Although we’re here to represent the Hammonton blueberry today, a tremendous amount of planning goes into planning this crop with pride and integrity, day after day after day. This is not just a June and July operation; this is a 365 operation for Sam and his family, and we very much appreciate all the farmers who put so much time and effort to grow the Hammonton blueberry with pride and integrity, for not just New Jersey and not just Hammonton, but for the entire world,” Oliva said.
Mento concurred regarding the amount of time involved with a farm.
“For us, it’s more than a job; it really is a way of life for us. This is our home away from home, and 90 percent of our conversations at home with my children—who are on the packing line right now—is about the farm and what’s going on, either what happened last season or what’s coming up next season,” Mento said.
Mento also expressed his appreciation to those in attendance.
“Today, we live in a society that’s so far removed from the food chain that it’s great to have you guys out here to show people where blueberries really come from. It’s a little bit more than going to a convenience store and grabbing a pint,” Mento said.
Mento closed by noting that the weather this blueberry season has been favorable for harvesting.
“All this abundant sunshine definitely has made our blueberries plump and sweet,” Mento said.