(May 28) Before knocking around parts of south New Jersey in April, my experience with the state was limited. Twice in the past I’d hustled from one end of the New Jersey turnpike to the other, driving from Florida to Long Island, N.Y.

The scenery I glimpsed on those trips betrayed the grandeur of the Garden State and instead reinforced the bleak, black-and-white images of the Bruce Springsteen video “Atlantic City.” Refinery towers, dumps, abandoned buildings ... you get the picture.

But a short drive from Philadelphia, I quickly saw that New Jersey towns like Vineland, Shiloh, Glassboro, Hammonton, Cedarville and Woodstown are far different. They’re situated in the largely rural southern tip of New Jersey between Philly and Atlantic City — the heart of a diverse produce deal that may be as interesting as it is stealthy.

Most folks in this industry certainly are aware of the New Jersey blueberry deal, and they’ve probably heard about the tomatoes and the peaches. But the state produces dozens of fruits and vegetables in commercial volumes — everything from potatoes (sweet or otherwise) to peppers, asparagus to arugula, cucumbers to cantaloupe.

But the thing that intrigues me about the deal is that its growers appear very willing to try new marketing approaches. They know producing top-quality crops is a key to continued success.

That’s significant, because complacency could have set in long ago, given their ideal location near the huge metropolitan areas of New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Growers in the area sell their product in a variety of ways: through the history-laden auction in Vineland, through brokers, direct to retailers and foodservice purveyors.

Even with their proximity to key markets and the huge freight advantage that implies, New Jersey growers know they can’t compete on the same terms with big Western firms shipping items such as head lettuce, peaches and tomatoes. So some have moved away from lettuce and are growing more profitable items, such as fresh herbs or specialty greens.

Times changed, and transportation improvements long ago put Western shippers only a few days away from East Coast buyers. But New Jersey growers learned an important lesson in the interim: Don’t let the key to your success today be the cause of your downfall tomorrow.

ROBO-RODENTS

In case you missed this jaw-dropping news out of the Pentagon a few weeks back, researchers are developing live remote-controlled rats to detect land mines and find people trapped in collapsed buildings. The rats have electrical probes wired into their brains and, equipped with cameras, can make turns, climb and navigate mazes as a person with a laptop computer commands them.

This technology obviously has military applications, and the original purpose of the research was to develop ways to allow paralyzed people to regain mobility.

I’m thinking rodents wouldn’t be such good harvesters, what with their prickly little paws. And they’d definitely be a third wheel with a third-party audit. How about this: Surreptitiously plant them in the snack aisles of supermarkets, where they can frighten unsuspecting shoppers back into the produce department.

HELPFUL HACKERS

They do it every year, so it isn’t really new. But it is newsworthy, I think, to mention the good deeds being done out there under the guise of fun-filled golf outings.

I had the privilege of participating in a couple of charity golf tournaments in Florida last month. The first was put on by Palmetto, Fla.-based Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd. and its affiliated companies that ship under the Sunripe label. The third-annual Sunripe Golf Classic raised $102,000 for a migrant scholarship fund at the University of South Florida that provides the children of migrant families with opportunities to pursue teaching careers.

More than a hundred grand for a single day of golf is an astonishing number. It’s made possible because the Sunripe companies underwrite the entire event, which is a very classy thing. The money will change many lives.

A couple of weeks later I scuffed it around at the TPC at Heron Bay outside Fort Lauderdale, where the Tom Lange Charity Golf Classic took place. That longtime annual event, which has raised more than $350,000 over the years and jumps around the country to a different host city where Springfield, Ill.-based Tom Lange Co. Inc. has an office, raised a bundle for the Love Jen Fund at the Joe DiMaggio Children’s hospital.

During the post-tournament dinner and awards ceremony in Fort Lauderdale, a charity recipient who works with cancer-stricken kids spoke about all the good things the money will do. I’m not ashamed to say it brought tears to my eyes.