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Beach Plum Farm supplies local restaurants, with some to spare
WEST CAPE MAY – Organic farmer Jaime Alvarez would rather grow an ugly tomato that tastes like heaven than a photogenic fruit that tastes like wax.
This summer – his second year running Cape Resorts’ Beach Plum Farm – Alvarez will grow about 11,000 pounds of less-than-lovely tomatoes, along with a bumper crop of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. He has planted rows of asparagus, broccoli, kale, carrots and other vegetables, plus fields of corn, acres of herbs, and of course, the signature beach plums, a hardy flowering shrub prized for its sweet, plum-like fruit.
Most of this bounty is destined for Cape Resorts’ group of restaurants, including the Ebbitt Room, Blue Pig, and Rusty Nail in Cape May, and Chelsea Prime and Teplitzky’s in Atlantic City. The rest will be available at a produce market open to the public starting in mid-June.
It’s all in keeping with the farm-to-table or “locavore” movement, which holds that the best food is food that’s grown locally, and not transported over long distances, which can require artificial methods of preservation.
“That’s the great thing – you can pick something today and enjoy it this evening for dinner,” Alvarez said. “You know it’s local, you know it’s fresh-grown, and you definitely know there are no preservatives and no chemicals. It’s the cleanest produce you can buy.”
A native of Michoacan, Mexico, Alvarez spent his early career in what he calls “conventional farming,” where growers used additives to bulk up the produce, increase the output and maximize profits. He wasn’t impressed by the results.
“I decided to take a different route, and grow organically and locally,” he said. “Everything we do here is from organic seeds and organic plants. We don’t spray any pesticides” – except the homemade variety, including a non-toxic “witch’s brew” made of garlic, wax hot peppers, and dishwashing liquid. It deters pests without affecting the plants; the only drawback is that is washes off easily and has to be reapplied.
The 62-acre farm “comes to life” at this time of year, said Alvarez, and the public is welcome to see it first-hand on tours held Tuesdays through Thursdays and also on Saturday mornings. Guests can wander on their own through the rustic fields, which border the Cape May Canal, or take guided tours to see 100 varieties of fruits, vegetables and flowers, plus beehives buzzing with springtime activity, and farm animals including free-range pigs and chickens. Sheep, lambs and goats will soon be part of the menagerie.
Last weekend, Alvarez welcomed several families with children, and was happy to serve as educator and guide. He talked about life on the farm, including the social lives of hens and roosters; he offered fresh-picked edible nasturtiums to a guest (they taste like radishes); and he discussed the right time of day to harvest vegetables (in the morning, when “the sugar is high” and moisture and flavor are at their peak). He introduced an incubator filled with guinea hen chicks; in a few weeks, he said, they will be set free to keep the bugs under control. “These little guys will be our helpers,” he said.
The farm could add another 25 to 30 acres in the years to come, the farmer said. “We are extending our efforts; we want to be able to provide enough food to supply all the restaurants, from farm to table. That’s the greatest thing.”
Beach Plum Farm is located at 140 Stevens Street in West Cape May. Self-guided tours are Tuesday and Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Thursday and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon starting Tuesday, June 19. Guided tours with farmer Jaime Alvarez are Tuesday and Wednesday 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tickets are available at Congress Hall, 251 Beach Ave. in Cape May. Picnic tables are on-site for visitors.
For more information, see www.CapeResortsGroup.com .