All day I’ve been bugging Ben saying, “man, the best part of working there was...”
And every way I end that sentence is true. Piazza Farms and Greenhouses was the greatest place I could have ever worked in the world. You may think “but Amanda, there’s got to be some prestigious company you wish you could work for that would be better than working at a farm stand.” And you would be wrong.
Today, after 70 years of business, Piazza Farms and Greenhouses on route 57 in Phillipsburg, NJ has closed its doors for the last time. I have so much to share about this incredible place, so please be patient with me as I try to convey to you what it meant to me and so many others.
It was the summer of 2006 and I was 15 years old which meant that I was old enough to finally get working papers to get a job. For years leading up to this I had told my mom I wanted to work at Piazza’s as my first job. I’m not entirely sure why I wanted this so badly - often I’ve attributed it to the memory I have of my grandfather stopping there with me on the way to a horseshow to pick up a jelly they carried that he loved. He passed away in 2004 and as an extremely sentimental person I could see this being an important memory to me, steering me in the direction of wanting to work at a place that reminded me of him.
My mom took me in to the stand one day when one of the farmers’ wives was working. I had seen her before when she was a substitute teacher in my 5th grade class and my mom was familiar with her from working in the same school district. My mom told her that I was looking for a job and I can still hear her telling my mom that she wanted to hear it from me - one of my defining moments I can recall of having to come out of my shell and be a young adult. I then followed suit and told her that I was looking for a summer job and was hoping that I could work for Piazza’s. Conveniently at the time this was happening a good family friend, Mr. Bullock, was shopping for early season produce and he offered his recommendation of me having known me for nearly my entire life. I believe this “interview” was in June, and on July 11th I showed up for my very first day of work.
My first hurdle of this new job was the old register that was used to ring customers’ purchases up (although trying to tell apart a zucchini and cucumber were much harder than one would imagine at first). When you rang up purchases the register would tell you how much the customer owed, but when it came to giving change back you had to do that on your own. At 15 I had already struggled with the “new math” that our school district was trying out and I had never realized that counting change back was a thing. That’s when my manager suggested that I practice so I could be trusted on the registers. Back at home my mom had gotten out a little box with play money. I can’t tell you how many hours and how many different days she sat with me at the kitchen table and gave me totals and handed me fake dollars and coins looking for me to return the proper change, but in hindsight it has been a memory that both my mom and I laugh about and cherish. If not for Piazza’s this memory would likely not exist for me.
I learned so much working at the farm beyond counting change back.
I learned how to be strong in what we called “corn dumping races” which consisted of dumping burlap sacks with 4 dozen ears of corn on the table for customers while challenging one of your coworkers to see who could empty their bag quickest. It was always a struggle when an ear of corn turned sideways locking the contents in the bag - I can still feel that memory in my arms today.
I learned how to drive a golf cart on off-road terrain (even if I wasn’t permitted to drive the cart until after I had my driving permit - I’m not bitter anymore).
I learned so many varieties of annual flowering plants, which ones look great together, which ones need shade or sun, and I even learned about a handful of perennials.
I spent afternoons getting to water the plants during flower season, a time where I would often start writing songs in my head. The summer of 15 was when I started to teach myself guitar and I truly believe that Piazza’s was a place where so many song ideas came to me.
Beyond learning I made such incredible friendships. I found true, lifelong friends who I consider my best friends today. We made memories together whether it was working together on Memorial Days and getting to eat Flynn’s fried chicken and Joyce’s infamous chocolate cream cheese filled cupcakes, every single Christmas in July done right with decorations and Christmas tunes blasting, or around the 3 o’clock hour when we’d hope to hear the boss say “I think we need an afternoon treat” meaning that we’d be getting ice cream from the ice cream stand next door.
I don’t ever want to forget the memories I made with such a great company and awesome family. I started working the summer following the birth of one of Christy’s kiddos, and in my mind I still see him as a baby and my coworkers pushing him around on our metal carts used for restocking. He’s now just about two years younger than I was when I started working there. I can still see Christy’s daughter, who was adopted from China a few years before I started there, drawing masterpieces on our paper bags with markers from our drawer we used to make signs for prices on our items. She’s still a creative, playing with the high school band. I spent plenty of shifts working with Christy and her oldest daughter, who was just a few years younger than me, laughing at their antics of always starting up hilarious conversations where Christy would become so animated it would improve your day just by being around it all. And now that daughter is teacher at our old high school.
The list of all the things I’m grateful for goes on and on when talking about this incredible first job. The fresh figs I got to try from the first fig tree I ever saw in my life. The good days when a pie would “accidentally” fall off the cart and we’d have to eat it because you can’t waste a good pie just because it’s too ugly to sell. The customers that came in every year who really made the experience of working there unique - whether it was because they were always pleasant and a joy to see, or if they were angry and attempting to throw tomatoes at Christy. There was ALWAYS a story. I ate the sweetest raw sweet corn nearly everyday for lunch once it was available, and I’m pretty sure over the course of my 8 summers working there I ate my body weight in white cherries and grapes - every great business needs quality control.
I know my blog is a running blog, and I can totally tie this in with my running journey. When I was in middle school I told my mom I wanted to play soccer. She agreed to sign me up for a travel team and we both agreed I should try a youth track program out beforehand to make sure I would be able to do all the running required in soccer.
While my memory is sort of hazy from the days of that track experience aside from remembering how slow I was and how I figured out if I could start at the front of the pack during our two lap warm up I wouldn’t finish dead last, I can remember one of the coaches cheering me on at a practice. “Come on ‘pink girl!’” she cheered for me, as I had been dressed in a pair of pink shorts and a pink top for this practice. Fast forward to a few years of me working at Piazza’s I was working a shift with Christy and heard her talking about running a half marathon. We got into a conversation and I can’t quite now remember how or who, but one of us recalled this memory of me being “pink girl” and figured out Christy was that track coach who cheered me on. I’m a sucker for life coming full circle and this is a moment that I still find incredible.
Today is such a bittersweet day, even from over 10 hours away now that I’m living in Charleston. I’m sad that a staple of the community I grew up in is gone forever, and I’m sad as I always hoped once I made it as a successful songwriter in Nashville I could always go back to work the summers at Piazza’s. But I’m happy for the family that gave me these memories to finally have a chance to have a break, enjoy the success of all their hard work, and hopefully get to enjoy a summer for once instead of having to worry about growing and harvesting through all the extreme kinds of weather.
Thank you Piazza Farms for helping me grow into the person I am today. I feel there is still so much that I’m missing out on sharing, but so much of it is “you had to be there” moments. I will always cherish my memories from my summers working at the greatest place on earth.
P.S. Does anyone know if Karen will still be in business? I’m trying to find a place to buy local Jersey veggies when I’m in town. 😉