By Catherine DeMuro
In the city of Camden, Tony Diamond’s Farm Market is a rarity.
It sells fresh produce, including its famed exotic fruits, to a community that gained its first real supermarket in almost 40 years only two years ago.
In a city known as a “food desert,” the phase applied to a typically urban community with limited access to affordable and difficulty buying fresh, good-quality food, Tony Diamond’s is truly a special find.
Jackie Parisi is the manager of Tony Diamond’s, located on Mt. Ephraim Avenue. Her passion for her job and her community is evident from her extensive knowledge on every product in the store to the way her face lights up when talking about her customers.
“A lot of the customers are like my family,” Parisi said. “It’s just so nice being here.”
It is clear that Parisi feels a heavy responsibility to the people of Camden and to the community she grew up in, as she has been living in the city since she was 10 years old.
“For the people of Camden, they’re not eating out, this is what they eat,” Parisi said, with a wave over the store. “In this community it’s not always readily available so we do our best to have everything for everyone.”
Parisi does her best to ensure that the food is sold at a reasonable price, which is not always common in the area.
“Everything is as cheap as it can possibly be so that we make our little bit and the community gets to eat,” Parisi said. “We know that more or less all these products aren’t available in most stores in the area.”
It sells fruit, vegetables, dairy items and many other food products and receives shipments of fresh produce to restock every single day and fresh eggs twice per week.
Parisi also said that local bodegas and other small markets regularly purchase produce from Tony Diamond’s to sell to customers at a higher price.
For longtime customer Cheryl Davidson, the farm market is her rock in an otherwise calamitous sea.
“There isn’t much for us around here,” Camden resident Davidson said. “I know that when I come to the food market at least it’s gonna be fresh and good quality products.”
To think all of this began from a boy with a wagon.
Parisi’s father came from a large family who grew a lot of fruits and vegetables.
In the early 1950s, he would take produce from his father’s crop and walk around selling it in the Fairview section of Camden. He would give the earnings to his parents and eventually upgraded to using a horse and wagon.
The personal produce business became stationary in 1968 when the family opened it as a small roadside store on Haddon Ave. where it stood as a stand with some umbrellas.
“We were built from the top down instead of the bottom up,” Parisi said.
Although her father passed away two years ago, Parisi feels that carrying on his legacy and service is an unquestionable duty of hers.
“There’s a dire need for a produce market here and my father always knew that,” she said. “And it’s a little restless sometimes, I mean it is Camden, but we love it here.”
Camden gained its first supermarket in decades only two years ago.
In addition to operating as the largest produce market in the area, Tony Diamond’s also serves the community in other ways, including donating to local churches and volunteer organizations in Camden.
Its largest project – and Parisi’s favorite – is helping to create over 1,200 gift baskets for the Sacred Heart Church to give out around Christmastime. Tony Diamond’s provide all of the fruit and vegetables for the baskets with donations from suppliers.
“It’s just a good thing to be able to help the community,” Parisi said. “And the community helps us … You don’t need security because everybody is watching everybody else, and they appreciate the goodness of it.”
Whether it is giving some leeway to a customer low on cash that week or donating to food kitchens and homeless shelters, Parisi is grateful for any opportunity to give back to the community that has supported her over the years.
“It’s its own reward to give this to the community,” she said. “People come in and they’re just happy and getting to eat like that, and there isn’t much other thanks.”