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148-acre Hamilton Township farm preserved


New Jersey Conservation Foundation
Greg Romano of NJ Conservation Foundation introduces speakers
HAMILTON TWP. - A 148-acre farm off Sawmill Road that was threatened by development will instead be preserved by Mercer County, with the help of New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

The preservation was celebrated today, Thursday, Oct. 30, at a ceremony attended by county and state officials, including State Senator Linda Greenstein and Assemblymen Daniel Benson and Wayne DeAngelo.

Officials also used the occasion to urge voters to support Public Question #2 on Tuesday, Nov. 4. Passage of the ballot question would create a long-term source of funding for farmland and open space preservation by dedicating part of the state's existing corporate business tax.

Noting that the state has run out of money for open space and farmland preservation, Senator Greenstein called the ballot proposal "a good solution. It would allow us to do all over the state what we're doing here."
The county has agreed to buy the farm from land investor Bryce Thompson, and is expected to finalize the purchase in the near future. The farm is located along a tributary of the Doctor's Creek, and is bordered on three sides by preserved farmland and open space.

"With the preservation of this farm, over 1,100 acres will have been preserved south of Old York Road in Hamilton Township in the last 20 years," said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes. "This is in contrast to over 300 housing units which would have been constructed under the local zoning. The investment of county, state and municipal open space funds has ensured continued recreational and agricultural opportunities in this area forever. '

Efforts to preserve the property began earlier this year, when New Jersey Conservation entered into an option agreement with Thompson, who has sold several other open space and farmland parcels for preservation. NJ Conservation also conducted appraisals and a survey of the farm. In August, Mercer County agreed to buy the land and accepted assignment of the option.

"It's fantastic to be able to preserve a farm of this size in the midst of other preserved farmland and open space in Hamilton Township," said Greg Romano, assistant director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. "We're extremely grateful to Mercer County for being willing to step up to make this happen, and to Bryce Thompson for being willing to sell the property."

The Thompson farm is located in the Rural Resource Conservation zone in the southeastern section of Hamilton Township. Preserving the farm protects the scenic character of the community and water quality in the Crosswicks and Doctor's Creeks, and is consistent with county and township planning goals.

"This really has been a wonderful area to preserve for future generations," said Assemblyman Benson, who also urged a "yes" vote on the ballot question.

Assemblyman DeAngelo agreed. "Everybody loves open space. You've got to love open space or something's wrong with you!" he quipped.

"We congratulate Mercer County and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation on the preservation of this important piece of farmland and for their commitment to protecting our farms for future generations," said Kelly Mooij, coordinator of NJ Keep It Green. "This farm and the farms and green space that surround us today are true examples of why we need to vote Yes on Public Question 2 to replenish funding for the state farmland preservation program and to keep our drinking water clean, ensure our children and families have parks where they can play and to safeguard our historic treasures."

The farm is contiguous to preserved farmland and consists entirely of the highest quality soils for agricultural production, known as "prime" and "statewide" soils. Hamilton Township is located in New Jersey's "inner coastal plain," a geographic area that contains some of the world's most fertile soils.

After closing, Mercer County could either lease the property to a farmer or extinguish the development rights and sell it as permanently preserved farmland.

Ryck Suydam, president of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, cited the Thompson farm purchase as the type of preservation that is currently threatened in New Jersey. The state has run out of money for its successful and popular land preservation programs at a time when the need is greater than ever.

"A permanent funding source that preserves farmland and open space - without creating a new tax or borrowing the money - is a great deal, and the people of New Jersey would be wise to vote yes on #2," said Suydam.

According the American Farmland Trust, New Jersey lost a greater share of its agricultural land to development than any other state between 1982 and 2007 - 26.8 percent. The economic downturn and burst of the real estate "bubble" temporarily slowed development pressure, but that is changing.

Agriculture is a major industry in the Garden State, with the state's 10,300 farms generating more than $1 billion in sales in 2012 and supporting 30,000 on-farm jobs.

New Jersey's productive farmland covers about 715,000 acres, and the state Department of Agriculture estimates that 500,000 to 600,000 permanently preserved acres are needed retain a viable farmland industry in the future. So far about 210,000 acres have been preserved, and state officials hope to preserve at least 350,000 more.

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