By Phil Dunn
MANNINGTON TWP. — A milestone in farmland preservation was announced here Friday as officials from all over the state gathered to ceremonially celebrate the 2,000th preserved farm in New Jersey.
The 102-acre farm, owned by Mannington Township Committeeman and retired farmer Ernest Tark Jr., was among the recent preservation projects that helped the New Jersey farmland preservation program reach the mark of 2,000 farms.
The State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) preserved Tark’s class-one farm on Quaker Neck Road in December.
The development rights were bought by the SADC from Tark for $715,000.
“Salem County is no stranger to farmland preservation,” said Tark. “It’s my belief that class-one farms should never be developed. It doesn’t matter if it’s houses or solar panels.”
Tark thanked the SADC and recognized that even though he is retired, he and his sister, Maxine Rauch, who are co-owners of the farm, have plans to sell the land to local farmer Frank Battiato.
A third-generation vegetable and grain farmer, Battiato currently farms 400 acres in Mannington and Carneys Point townships.
He spoke to how important preservation is for the future of farming.
“Farmland preservation is really important. It allows the next generation to come along and expand their operation at an affordable rate,” said Battiato. “I’m really proud that Ernie is selling this ground to me, and I plan to farm this for a long time and maybe some day pass it on to my kids.”
Freeholder Director Lee Ware, also a farmer, was overjoyed that three of Salem County’s municipalities were top 10 in farmland preservation in the state this year.
Upper Pittsgrove, Mannington, and Pilesgrove have preserved 7,500, 5,600, and 4,700 acres of farmland, respectively.
“Salem County is truly the garden spot of the Garden State,” said Ware.
New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher applauded all those involved in making this 2,000th preserved farm a reality.
“This achievement would not have been possible without the strong partnership efforts at all levels of government, by the non-profit community and by the scores of landowners who made the commitment to preservation,” said Fisher. “While our work is far from over, the preservation of 2,000 farms is a major step toward ensuring that we will continue to have abundant opportunities to buy the freshest food and other farm products.”
Michele Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, said she found a sincere warmth in Salem County. She said she is happy to report that Salem County is number one in the state for farmland preservation with more than 28,000 acres preserved.
“New Jersey Conservation Foundation is thrilled to have assisted in the preservation of this landmark,” said Byers. “The preservation of the 2,000th farm underscores New Jersey’s continued role as a national leader in farmland preservation.”
The SADC preserved its first farms in 1985.
To date, approximately 190,000 acres of farmland have been permanently preserved under the program in 18 counties.