Originally appeared on NJConservation.org
Third generation nurseryman preserves Cumberland farm
FAIRFIELD TWP. - Roger Ruske grew up growing landscape plants on his grandfather’s nursery farm in Connecticut. He knew he wasn’t in line to inherit the family property, but he never lost his desire to work “down in the dirt” as a nurseryman.
Fate intervened when Ruske and his wife Peggy traveled to South Jersey as a young married couple. “We were driving through Cumberland County and saw this run-down farm for sale,” he recalled. “Within a year my wife and I had bought it, at the grand old age of 22.”
That was back in 1967, and the Ruskes have owned Cumberland Nurseries on Route 49 in Fairfield Township ever since. Over the years they’ve expanded the farm by buying contiguous properties.
Nearly 45 years later, the Ruskes have permanently preserved 205 acres of farmland.
Cumberland County purchased the development rights on the farm, using funding from the State Agriculture Development Committee and New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) grant. The sale of development rights means that, although the Ruskes still own the land, it can never be developed.
“It’s good agricultural land and I’d like it to stay that way,” said Ruske, 66. “A lot of (farmers) my age want to make sure their land stays in agriculture. The last thing you want to see on this land you’ve spent your whole life nurturing is someone growing houses.”
Preserving land for agriculture, Ruske added, also makes it more affordable for future generations – like his son, Chris, who is taking over the nursery operation, and Chris’ three young children – to become farmers and nurserymen.
Cumberland County Freeholder Thomas Sheppard was quick to point out the benefits of this collaborative effort. “By having Cumberland County partner with New Jersey Conservation Foundation, we were able to apply federal funding to this transaction in addition to the continued strong financial support from the State of New Jersey,” he said. “The result of these partnerships is that no Cumberland County funds needed to be spent on the direct preservation of these 205 acres.”
Noting that the county has nearly 16,000 acres of permanently preserved farmland, Freeholder Sheppard expressed his strong continued interest in the program. “Open space is for the good of all Cumberland County residents and will be available to our children and grandchildren forever,” he said.
Cumberland Nurseries specializes in growing wholesale stock for sale to commercial nurseries and garden centers. “We’re the nurserymen to the nurserymen, so to speak,” said Ruske. Among the nursery’s most popular products are native plants, plants that are deer resistant, and hedge plants that increase privacy for homeowners.
The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program funding comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program supports the production of locally grown agricultural products in perpetuity,” said Don Pettit, State Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “We are pleased to have a part in protecting this wonderful farm and its productive soils, knowing that these soils will be available for generations of farmers to come here in New Jersey.”
Greg Romano, assistant director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation and head of its land preservation program, said the foundation is happy to allocate part of its Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program grant toward preserving the Ruske farm.
“Including the funding for this transaction, New Jersey Conservation Foundation has contributed almost $925,000 to offset Cumberland County’s farmland preservation costs to date,” said Romano, “An additional $2.5 million is scheduled to be granted to the county in the next year, so this is definitely a continuing partnership.”
New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private nonprofit that preserves land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. 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. For more information about the Foundation’s programs and preserves, go to www.njconservation.org or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).