It was Sunday morning when my wife and I decided to go food shopping at the Paterson Farmers Market. A friend told us about a supermarket called “El Campesino” that carries a full line of vegetables and fruits at very reasonable prices.
The Paterson Farmers Market is one of the oldest farmer's markets in New Jersey and the only surviving one in continuous operation in north Jersey. The market was set up an area located near a railhead, for the purpose of selling whatever just came off the train, or whatever is going on the train later that day. The freight train no longer stops here, but the market is alive and healthy.
Over the years, the market has supplied most of all the small fruit and vegetable stores in the area as well as hospitals, institutions and supermarkets. During the war, thirty-eight east coast army camps were supplied fruits and vegetables from the Paterson Farmer’s Market.
Today, most the farms in the area are gone but the market remains active with the farmers that remain. Fruits and vegetables are still trucked in along with plants, flowers and a wide assortment of other foods. There are also butcher shops and restaurants. A recent $2.14 million renovation project saw the market get a new exterior facade, lighting, paved streets, sidewalks, awnings, canopies and signage.
As we arrived at 295 East Railway Avenue in Paterson and drove to the parking area, I could not help notice the movement of people in and out of the stores and it was only 8:30 in the morning. We entered the main entrance of El Campesino Farmers Market and found ourselves in a medium size store packed from floor to ceiling with fruits and vegetables along with aisles of other staples such as milk, eggs, bread, rice, coffee etc. We made our way in to the store pulling our shopping list out. It was a slow move through the aisles as there were many people shopping, but we managed to get everything we wanted and surprisingly even more.
My wife was born in Peru found mango de planta, camote morado and cebada. All of them she packed in a bag. When we were checking out, we asked if they had “Maiz Morado” or “Turrow” which my wife has been unable to locate locally. She claims that with one bite of Turrow she gets a warm and fuzzy feeling as if she were home with her family in Peru. The checkout person told us that they had the items but we had to go to El Rancho, their grocery and butcher store across the street. I paid my bill, walked across the street and here is the big surprise. I had purchased 4 bags of fruits and vegetables and other items. I expected a typical bill of around $50 to $100 per bag, as I pay to my local super market. Instead the bill came to $87. I was practically in shock; but elated. Now I understood why so many people where shopping in this store. By 9:30 a.m. there was a waiting line outside the store.
We ventured across the street to El Rancho. The checkout person was not exaggerating; they had aisles upon aisles filled with foods from most every Hispanic country. I could see labels such as Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Ecuador and several others. We stopped at the Peru section and found the Maiz Morado, and not only. My wife purchased papa amarilla, mote,papa seca CharquiJo and Turron. She packed the cart as if she were shopping for Christmas. The glow in her face made me very happy.
My wife acted as if it were Christmas day; filling the wagon full of treasures. In the rear of the store they have a butcher. We purchased skirt steak and NY Sirloin. As I was leaving I asked about the owner and was pointed to an elegantly dressed man in his 50’s wearing a fedora style hat. I approached and asked if I could interview him for a possible story for Jornal.us. He accepted and we began to talk.
He was born in Cuba and arrived his in the U.S. at age 13. His father had been in the produce business all his life as well as his grandfather. The owner, Pedro Perez learned from his ancestors everything anyone would need to know to operate a fruit and vegetable market. He learned of course much more as I soon found out. Pedro Perez has a wholesale division where he supplies fruits and vegetable to many restaurants, grocery stores, fruit, vegetable stores, and smaller supermarkets. To be able to house the amount of stock he runs through each day, he purchased a building of about 20,000 square feet. The entire building is a refrigerator. He showed me around and I can certainly say, I have never been inside refrigeration that was bigger than my house. His wife, Lilly Perez passed by and was introduced. Lilly is his childhood sweetheart, they have three kids and had been together like a bear and honey since they arrived from Cuba.
I asked permission to speak to some of the customers to get a cross-section of who was shopping at Casa De Campo. I first spoke to Mr. and Mrs. John Wellington from Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. I asked him why he comes so far to shop. He responded, “It’s really not much of a trip, perhaps 10-15 minutes, but the benefit is well worth it. We have been shopping here for the past year, and I have saved over $3,000. So I am happy.”
I asked if his friends also shop here and he said, “of course, once they make the first trip they never stop.” A second shopper from Newark said, “ I am Brazilian and aside from the vegetables they have the real sugar cane, wonderful papaya and Portuguese bread.” A Dominican lady said. “ I live in North Bergen and I come here especially for the avocados and platanos. They are always ready to eat, not like the ones I used to get at the local supermarket. They always sell large bags of rice at a very low price. All my friends come to el Campesino to shop for groceries.
I walked away form this shopping experience learning something. You can get lower prices if you look for it. You should not be lazy and only shop around your neighborhood. Given the economic situation most American find themselves in, it makes sense that businesses that are able to provide quality products at a reduced price, can do well in today’s economic climate., as long as they keep up the quality. Pedro Perez has found a way that his businesses can survive even in the worst of time.
On any given day you will find whatever it is you need to find, fresh, daily, at this market. In any case, if you happen to be near the neighborhood, try El Campesino out. You will be please that you did and so will your family.
El Campesino Farmers Market
295 East Railway Avenue
Paterson, New Jersey