The locally grown craze sweeping the nation is especially salient for New Jersey, which serves the Northeast population and has a unique opportunity to promote close-to-home product.

“Most of the sales are through the tristate area,” said Bob Von Rohr, director of marketing and customer relations for Sunny Valley International Inc., Glassboro, N.J., discussing the movement of tomatoes grown by his farmers. “It’s more of a locally grown, regionally correct tomato.”

Von Rohr said the tomato season will run from the beginning of July to the end of October, providing an ample window for several different varieties grown in the state.

“I think we hear a lot more about locally grown. I’m not sure if it’s because of the green movement, carbon footprints, that might be part of it,” he said. “And people associate locally grown with fresher. Something trucked 100-200 miles is fresher than something shipped across the country.”

Others agree proximity is a hot selling point that is helping to increase sales even when California product is sometimes less expensive.

“The stuff is fresher by miles,” said Vince Consalo, president of Wm. Consalo & Sons Farms Inc., Vineland, N.J. “It is picked in the morning it’s delivered that morning. You just can’t beat the freshness.”

Kurt Alstede, general manager for Alstede Farms LLC, Chester, N.J., who operates a you-pick-it operation, said he believes the trend for local grown is becoming a family activity.

“There is a big trend toward buying local and a big trend that continues to grow in terms of entertainment for families to get out and enjoy a day in the country,” he said of his farm 40 miles west of New York City.

Bill Nardelli, president of Nardelli Bros. Inc., Cedarville, N.J., said many consumers put great value on personal familiarity with the farmers who grow the produce they are buying.

“Local items have taken off,” he said. “They say, ‘I know my Jersey Fresh growers, I’ve been by his farm.’ Many of us are family farms here and your family farm I think has a little more credibility with the consumer than the mega corporations.”

Ben Casella, field representative, New Jersey Farm Bureau, Trenton, said many growers rely on the local New Jersey markets.

“They sell a lot directly through roadside markets, community markets as well as the wholesale markets,” he said. “I think we rely pretty strongly for the local products.”

Nardelli said the marketing angle of “buy local” is also being well utilized with pictures of farms and products in displays.

“It’s a way to let the people know that this was locally grown and harvested 12 hours ago,” he said. “Out of the field and onto the shelf — it doesn’t get any fresher than that.”

Nardelli, who has had his own trucking fleet since 1941, said he is able to do many of his own drops, making it especially efficient for his company to expand its regional customers.

“It seems now that the advantage is really good to be so close to so many of the major cities,” he said. “It enables us to deliver our own product with overnight delivery to most of the major cities east of the Mississippi.”