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In Salem County, farming links Black and Jewish families — and history

By Kevin Riordan, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

His grandfather, whom family and friends call Bo, said: "I like preparing the ground, and all the other aspects of farming, except the most important part - the marketing. I grow the nicest crops and take them to market and ask what they're going to give me for it."

Joe is pleased that the Levins have helped find new markets for his produce - which can fetch far higher prices in Brooklyn than in Pittsgrove. The partnership "has been good so far," Joe added.

The Levins have friends among a new generation of Jewish farmers and food purveyors in New York and Philadelphia. Mordechai Schram, a kosher chef and the owner a pickling business called Hamutzim (Hebrew for pickles) in Philly, recently purchased 100 pounds of green tomatoes from the Bartees.

Pickled, the tomatoes were "amazing," Schram said. "The texture, the size, the flavor. We're hoping to do more business with them."

Nate, aka "Farmer Nate" Kleinman, who co-founded the Experimental Farm Network in Philadelphia and farms in Elmer, New Jersey, recently bought okra from the Bartees and pickled it, with delicious results. He sees the partnership as an updated version of the "little-known history" of cross-cultural cooperation in South Jersey.

 

To Kenny Bartee, it's the right way to grow.

"If everybody is doing what they're supposed to do and help each other," he said, "the world would be a better place."

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