Tri-County Cooperative Market: Farmers Working Together Since 1934

Tri County Coop produce on dock


Tri-County Coop Sign


This sponsored article is brought to you by Tri-County Cooperative Market.

The Tri-County Cooperative Market in Hightstown, NJ, sits on almost five acres and was once a bustling support system for New Jersey farmers. The current board and market director are seeing signs that the need for what the co-op does for both the farmer and consumer is growing once again.

In the Beginning

Founded in 1934 by area farmers who felt that there was strength in numbers, the Tri-County Cooperative Market provided a place to collectively sell the farmers’ fruits and vegetables as well as provide some of the facilities farmers needed at the time, like a 300-foot winter storage cellar for potatoes plus sorting, grading and packaging services. There was also a large egg-washing building where farmers would bring their eggs for packaging.

Tri-County early 70s

I spoke with John Hauser, who serves on the board of directors and is the co-op’s secretary. He’s been involved since 1968, when he would accompany his grandfather on market days. Hauser’s 48-acre family farm in Old Bridge dates back to the 1860s. They specialize in doughnut peaches and many other fruits and vegetables.

“The customer base is very responsive to local produce and the current trend to support local farmers, including the restaurants and even the bigger grocery stores. The co-op’s reach is expanding. We have distributors buying from us and delivering to restaurants even into New York,“ John explained. “As a board member and Tri-County member myself, along with previous generations, my dad and my grandfather, I know firsthand how it fills an important piece of marketing for farmers here in Central Jersey. I’d like to preserve the concept of having farmers benefit from a co-op and continue to grow the marketing venues we have now.”

Tri-County Coop Dock

Tri-County Today

In the early days, sales were direct-by-day on the dock and then later sold at auction. There is a designated area—no longer in use—that served as the auction block and cars would line up for a chance to auction their goods.

Today, the Tri-County Cooperative Market is strictly a direct sales operation. Consumers, whether they be restaurant owners, farmer’s market stand owners, or private parties, can register and place orders right on the website. They’re also welcome to show up on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday after 5:30 p.m. to see what’s available on the dock.

“Many of the members,” John added, “have farmer markets or do tailgate markets and we’ll buy and sell amongst ourselves to fill holes in our inventory. It saves us from having to run around all over the place to find what we need.”

This is not the place you would go to buy one cucumber or a few tomatoes. Produce and flowers are sold in bulk at wholesale. It’s perfect for the annual canning party or the foodpreneur who needs to get his next batch of salsa to market. You must be registered on the website to participate. (It’s free.)

On my visit—I think it was 100° that day—the dock was bursting at the seams with watermelon, tomatoes, corn, peppers, and more. Beautiful sunflowers and other cut flowers were tagged and waiting to be picked up by shoppers who ordered ahead.

Looking Ahead

After the sudden and tragic death of Bill Dea, the co-op’s market director, the organization found itself in desperate need of a new manager. Since its members are busy farmers, they needed to find someone to fill Dea’s big shoes, fast. Enter Lisa Lawlor. Lawlor has extensive experience working with area farms through her previous job with Farmers Against Hunger.

“I’m very excited to be a part of the Tri-County Co-Op right now,” said Lawlor. “We’ve got lots of potential to grow and evolve with the times. We need to let the Tri-State area know that we exist. This organization is so worth preserving. I hope to bring something old back to life and keep it going for many generations to come.”

If you are a farmer who would like to become part of the co-op you can sign up on the website and pay the $250 in annual dues. If you complete the annual work day in April, you will get  $100 of your dues refunded. You can sell Monday, Wednesday, Friday and all products through the website. Once you are a member you pay the co-op a 10% commission on any sales. This covers the cost of operations at the co-op.

Consumers interested in purchasing from the co-op need to register on their website. You can then order directly through the site or stop in on evenings (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) to purchase on site.

Tri-County Cooperative Market
619 Route 33 West
Hightstown, NJ 08520