Here’s a little know fact: Burlington County was the first county in the state to preserve farmland and leads the state in total acres preserved. But most surprising is the fact that it’s ranked 7th in the nation! Stop to consider that for a moment.
Impressive, right? Even a recovering environmentalist like me has to give that ranking its due. That’s quite an accomplishment in the most densely populated state.
Now, three more properties have been added, totaling 136 acres. As Burlington County Commissioner Director Felicia Hopson sees it, “The preservation of farms and open space helps maintain our county’s scenic landscape and keeps farming alive and viable for current and future generations. It also guards against overdevelopment, which is becoming a growing concern as developers aggressively target our county’s remaining farms and open space.” Of course, Ms. Hopson is right to be concerned. Burlington County is the largest county in the state by land area, making it a prime target for housing and the retail that follows. The onslaught must be pretty heavy.
And just what is the best use of the land? The three farms in question don’t seem to be big operations that provide large amounts of food to large populations. Black Walnut Farm is a 60-acre grain farm; Gatley Farm is a 45-acre grain farm; and Brace Lane Farm, at 31 acres, is being converted into a sheep farm. Would it be worth considering using that land, or portions of it, for housing? Retail? Manufacturing? Or is it better to keep the bucolic scenery and the pleasure one gets visiting a farm to buy fresh flowers and vegetables? So far, those in charge in Burlington County have agreed with the latter, but I wonder what will happen when the right offer meets the right politician.
Fortunately, these decisions become less and less complicated over time. The more people move into the state chasing high salaries, good schools, and jobs in pharma and film, the more land is going to be needed to develop. And the more money New Jersey continues to make from finance, real estate, manufacturing, and business services, the less it will focus on agriculture, which as of 2021 only brought in a little over a billion dollars. It may be time for small-time farmers in the state to start planning for their next venture.