BY TOM HESTER SR.
Another 181 acres of the Springhouse dairy farm in Fredon, Sussex County have been preserved as farmland at a cost of $1.02 million through the combined effort of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Sussex County government and the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.
One hundred acres of the farm owned by Pete and Marilyn Southway on Phil Hardin Road have already been preserved. The Southways make artisanal cheeses on the farm.
The newly preserved portion of the farm consists of rolling fields and wooded and scrub wetlands with the Bear Brook, a tributary of the Pequest River, running through it. The farm is adjacent to other preserved farmland and is near the state’s Whittingham Wildlife Management Area.
“Our customers really enjoy knowing that I mowed the fields, milked the cows, poured the milk into a cheese vat, made the cheese, and then cut it into slices for them,” Pete Southway said Tuesday. “People identify with a physical place that they can see, touch and feel.
“We really love the land, the open space,” Southway added. “To see it someday get developed is something we didn’t want to do.”
“We were very pleased to help permanently preserve this farm, and to protect the rural and agricultural character of Sussex County,” Greg Romano, Conservation Foundation assistant director and head of the organization’s land preservation program, said.
Southway said he and his wife became interested in preserving the farm while planning for the estate they will leave to their six children, who range in age from 9 to 27. They subdivided the 330-acre farm into six parcels of 40 to 50 acres each. Two of the lots had already been preserved by a previous owner.
The Southways sold the development rights for the 181 acres acres for the $1.02 million. The remaining 30 acres, including a greenhouse that sells flowers and vegetable seedlings to garden centers, was not part of the preservation project.
A native of North Haledon, Pete Southway said he was always interested in learning about growing crops and raising animals. He and his wife bought the first section of their farm in 1994, while he was working as a commercial banker; they later expanded it when adjacent preserved lands came onto the market.
The Southways now keep 50 Jersey and Guernsey cows, whose milk is used to make a semi-firm farmers cheese that is flavored with herbs, vegetables and dried fruits. They make batches of cheese once or twice a week and sell it at their stand, the county farmers market, and in local stores.
They also grow crops like corn, alfalfa, hay and oat. They sometimes use draft horses to plow the fields and spread manure the old-fashioned way. “It’s slower but quieter,” Southway said. “A lot of our farm equipment is adapted so we can use it with a horse or a tractor.” The greenhouse rounds out the farming operation.
The Conservation Foundation is a private, member-supported nonprofit that preserves land and natural resources throughout New Jersey. Since 1960, it has protected more than 120,000 acres of open space – from the Highlands to the Pine Barrens to the Delaware Bayshore, from farms to forests to urban and suburban parks.