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Preserving family farm in Pilesgrove is 'good for the area'


New Jersey Conservation Foundation
Photo by Tim Morris
PILESGROVE TWP. - Benjamin Bassett Robbins Jr. has a lifetime of memories on the 73-acre farm that his parents bought in 1937, when he was two.

He milked cows with his younger brother when it was a dairy farm. He watched his father use draft horses to plant corn and cut hay in the fields. He learned to drive a tractor when he was 10.

Because of his history on the land, Bassett always wanted to keep the farm in the family and protect it from development.
He got his wish on Tuesday, March 15, when the farm was permanently preserved by a partnership of New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Pilesgrove Township, Salem County, the State Agriculture Development Committee and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"I always wanted to see this preserved," said Bassett, 81, who for most of his career has been both a farmer and a trucker. "I'm really happy this is now in farmland preservation and will stay a farm. It's good for the area."
The Robbins family sold the development rights on the farm, ensuring that it will remain farmland forever. The farm will stay in family ownership, and its uses are permanently restricted to agriculture. The easement will be held by Salem County.

Working on the Farm

Bassett said he and his brother, John, who passed away three years ago, developed a strong work ethic while growing up on the farm.

"From the time we were old enough to work, we helped out with the milking," he said. "When you grow up on a dairy farm and you get sick, you only get to go back to the house to rest once the milking is done. The cows needed to be milked twice a day."

Bassett recalled that crops were grown using old-fashioned horsepower in the early years when his family started the farm. They owned five draft horses, and usually would work with two at a time.

The family purchased its first tractor in 1944, and learning to drive it fueled Bassett's passion for collecting antique tractors.
The Robbins family eventually transitioned from dairy farming to crops like corn, wheat and soybeans. Long before it became popular, they practiced no-till and minimal-till methods and used cover crops to prevent soil erosion. It worked. "We don't have any gullies (from erosion)," said Bassett proudly.

"A Great Partnership"

The Robbins farm has gently rolling fields, high-quality soils and a tributary of the Salem River. It is adjacent to another preserved farm, in a township where over 5,000 acres of farmland has been preserved.

"It was a great partnership that preserved the Robbins farm, and we look forward to other partnership opportunities in the future," said Mayor Kevin Eachus.

The mayor urged the state Legislature and Governor Christie to take action to make the land preservation funding approved by New Jersey voters in 2014 available. "I hope the Legislature and Governor will act soon so we can continue moving in the right direction with farmland preservation," he said.

The development rights on the Robbins farm were purchased with a portion of New Jersey Conservation Foundation's funds from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program, and Pilesgrove Township's Planning Incentive Grant from the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC).

"The SADC welcomed the opportunity to partner in the preservation of the Robbins farm, which furthers the nearly $30 million investment the state has made to permanently protect farmland in Pilesgrove and keep agriculture growing strong," said state Agriculture Secretary Douglas H. Fisher.

State Conservationist Carrie Lindig said, "NRCS is pleased to partner with New Jersey Conservation Foundation to preserve the Robbins family farm. Since 92 percent of the farm consists of prime soils and soils of statewide importance, it makes this preservation especially beneficial for the region. We look forward to accomplish even more with our partners in New Jersey through the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to help protect significant farmland for future generations."

New Jersey Conservation Foundation has a long history of partnering to preserve farms in Pilesgrove Township: Since 1987, the foundation has helped preserve 16 township farms totaling 1,873 acres.

"Most of the farms we preserved in Pilesgrove were funded through our wonderful partnership with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which began in 2005," explained Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. "Not only does it preserve land, it also preserves the local agricultural economy. We're very pleased to help add the Robbins farm to the township's roster of preserved farms."

New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private nonprofit that preserves land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. Since 1960, New Jersey Conservation has protected over 125,000 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 or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).

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