Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro

Today’s Sunbeam – New Jersey officials celebrated a major milestone in farmland preservation efforts on Tuesday by marking the 200,000th acre of ground entered under state protection.

State and local officials from Salem County and towns throughout the state gathered at Cassady Farms in Upper Pittsgrove to announce the major achievement, and to celebrate the more than 2,000 preserved farms throughout New Jersey.

“The preservation of 200,000 acres of farmland is an extraordinary achievement that underscores New Jersey’s continued reputation as a national leader in farmland preservation,” said Agriculture Secretary Douglas H. Fisher. “This accomplishment would not have been possible without the strong commitment of all the farmland preservation partners – all levels of government, the nonprofit community, farm owners and the voters who have consistently supported farmland preservation funding.”

Salem County currently leads the state in total acreage of preserved farmland under the state Farmland Preservation Program, with 29,418 acres. Included in that total, Cassady Farms preserved more than 300 acres of ground back in 2000, and is currently working on preserving another 150 acres. Established in 1890, it’s one of the largest vegetable farms in the state.

“Agriculture is a thriving business (in New Jersey), and one of the reasons for that, I think, is because of farmland preservation,” said George Cassady Jr., owner of Cassady Farms.

Cassady said he and other local farmers use money from the preservation program to purchase additional land and expand their farm operations, something that would otherwise be very difficult to accomplish due to the state’s high land prices.

“I appreciate the opportunity to do that, and I think without (farmland preservation), for young people starting out in agriculture, with rising land prices, there would be no way they’d be able to do that,” Cassady said.

According to state records, the 200,000th acre was preserved officially on Sept. 11 in Monmouth County at the Sigismondi farm — when the farm’s 98.3-acres were preserved at a purchase price of $442,359.

But while the acquisition marked a major milestone for the state, it also highlighted a serious concern for the preservation program’s future, officials say. Recent funding for the program comes from a 2009 bond referendum that dedicated $400-million for open space, farmland and historic preservation projects throughout the state, but those funds are now starting to dwindle.

Though New Jersey voters have continuously supported preservation efforts — since 1960, 12 statewide referendums have been posed to voters on whether to continue funding land and open-space preservation in New Jersey, and all 12 were approved — officials say the state needs to create a permanent funding solution to continue preservation efforts, and ensure that the state meets its end goal of preserving 550,000-acres of farmland to make agriculture an enduring industry in New Jersey.

“As we celebrate this significant achievement in the farmland preservation program, we must also recognize that there is much work to be done,” said Kelly Mooij, coordinator for NJ Keep It Green, an advocacy group for establishing a dedicated preservation funding source. “New Jersey has at least an additional 350,000 acres of farmland that need to be preserved to maintain a viable agriculture industry in our state.”

According to the state Department of Agriculture, food and agriculture is New Jersey’s third largest industry, with the state’s farms having totaled $1.1-billion in revenue in 2011.

Senate President Steve Sweeney responded to funding concerns for preservation on Tuesday, saying that both he and Gov. Chris Christie consider preservation to be a priority for New Jersey.

“The governor and I talk about it on a regular basis… It’s not a partisan issue at all,” Sweeney said. “New Jersey loves saying that we’re the garden state, and you can only be the garden state if you have a garden, so we have to work to preserve these farms. We’ll figure this out, because it’s a priority for all of us.”

District Offices

Gloucester County

Kingsway Commons
935 Kings Highway, Suite 400
West Deptford, NJ 08086
Phone: (856) 251-9801
Fax: (856) 251-9752

Salem/Cumberland Counties

The Finlaw Building
199 East Broadway, Suite G
Salem, NJ 08079
Phone: (856) 339-0808 or
             (856) 455-1011
Fax: (856) 339-9626