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Farmland Preservation Program Marks 20th Anniversary,
Emerging as National Leader in Effort to Save Agriculture

For Immediate Release: July 29, 2003


Ralph Siegel
(609) 341-3074
(609) 306-9275 cell




SADC Logo (TRENTON) - The Farmland Preservation Program this week celebrated its 20th anniversary, a milestone for the program that has grown to become the nation's leader in preserving land for permanent agriculture. The State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC), which administers the farmland preservation effort, held its inaugural public meeting July 1983.

The SADC preserved its first land in May 1985, acquiring the development rights in cooperation with Burlington County on five neighboring farms totaling 608 acres in Chesterfield. Today, 918 farms totaling more than 110,000 acres have been preserved in New Jersey, which amounts to more than 13 percent of the state's agricultural land base - the highest percentage of protected land base of any state in the nation.

"New Jersey residents can be proud of the program's success, which is evident in the beautiful open landscapes we enjoy and in the access we have to fresh, locally grown agricultural products," said Agriculture Secretary Charles M. Kuperus, who chairs the SADC. "I commend the SADC staff, my fellow board members and their colleagues at the county level for the thoughtful and careful planning that goes into this program. I look forward to continuing our work together to forever preserve our land and keep New Jersey green and growing."

SADC Executive Director Greg Romano and Assistant Director Rob Baumley are original members of the 1983 SADC staff. Romano served as departmental counsel for its inaugural meeting and he was named as Executive Director in 1996.

"On this occasion we owe a debt of gratitude to the hundreds of farmers who put their land into our program and who opted not to develop their property or to sell it for development," Romano said. "It is a big decision for them to put their farm into the program, and they deserve credit for that."

Romano said the office has maintained its emphasis on strategic preservation projects, from that first group of Chesterfield farms to its present-day Smart Growth initiatives in all regions of the state.

Former Gov. Thomas Kean signed the legislation creating the program in the beginning of 1983. In 1998, voters approved a crucial Open Space bond referendum giving the Farmland Preservation Program a dedicated funding source from the Sales and Use Tax. And at the beginning of 2003, Gov. James E. McGreevey gave the SADC a new goal to preserve an unprecedented 20,000 acres of farmland a year.

Preserved farms and "project areas" can be found across the state, from groups of dairy farms in Wantage Township, Sussex County, to major preservation areas in Upper Freehold, East Windsor and other parts of Central Jersey facing tremendous development pressure, to the important agricultural production centers in Cumberland and Salem counties, all the way south to the critical farms that have been saved around Cape May.

One of the original Committee members attending the July 28, 1983, inaugural meeting is retired Burlington County farmer William Pettit Sr. "We went through some - trying times when we first started but we kept moving," said Pettit, a county leader in farmland preservation. "I am very happy that the program has been as successful as it has been." Another original Committee member is professional planner Sam Hamill, co-founder of the Smart Growth advocacy group New Jersey Future. Hamill said, "The SADC still leads the way in the commitment to planning and conservation of agricultural lands."

In addition to the Farmland Preservation Program, the SADC monitors activities on preserved farms to ensure the taxpayers' investment in agricultural resources is protected. The agency also resolves disputes raised under New Jersey's Right To Farm Law, one of the nation's toughest, which is intended to protect the rights of all responsible farm operations.