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Family's farmland preservation tradition continues with 65 more acres saved in Salem County


New Jersey Conservation Foundation
Photo courtesy of Dusty Lane Farms
Farming is more than just a job for Michael Brooks. It's a way of life, passed down to him by seven previous generations who have been tilling the family land in Salem County since the late 1700s.

"I grew up on the farm, and I was out there with my parents all the time," he said. "It was always fun for me to see what was going on and help in the fields. I've been driving a tractor since an age when I could barely hold the clutch down."

The original 156-acre family farm is located in Elmer, but in recent years the Brooks family has expanded its agricultural operation - known as Dusty Lane Farms - nearly tenfold through land purchases and leases.

On March 10, Brooks continued a family tradition by permanently preserving 65 acres of farmland straddling Upper Pittsgrove and Pittsgrove townships. "We farm about 1,500 acres, and with the preservation of this property, almost all the land we farm is preserved," he said.

Preserving the land, Brooks believes, will make it easier for future family members to farm. "The way I grew up is the way I want to raise my kids," said Brooks, the father of a 20-month-old daughter. "The reason we're preserving the farm is to save it for future generations."

Salem County purchased the development rights in partnership with New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the State Agriculture Development Committee, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, Upper Pittsgrove Township and Pittsgrove Township.

The land, located off Cedar Lane, is still owned by Brooks, but its uses are now restricted to agriculture. The entire property is composed of "prime" and "statewide important" soils, the two highest-rated types for crop production.

Dusty Lane Farms grows white potatoes, spinach, green bell peppers, sweet corn, broccoli, soybeans and feed corn. All of the fields are within a 10-mile radius of the original family farm in Elmer.

The 65-acre farm was preserved with funding from New Jersey Conservation Foundation's grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Salem County's funds from the State Agriculture Development Committee, and financial support from Upper Pittsgrove Township.

"As the mayor of Upper Pittsgrove Township, I am thrilled to have the Brooks farm added to the over 10,000 acres our township has already preserved," said Jack Cimprich, who also serves as a New Jersey Conservation Foundation trustee. "Not only does this help keep the 'Garden' in the Garden State, it also keeps our taxes low by reducing the need for services. And, open space maintains our quality of life by reducing traffic and providing places to hike, hunt, birdwatch and bicycle. New Jersey is the most densely populated state, so preservation is critical if we are to protect our natural resources for future generations."

Salem County Freeholder Lee Ware, Chairman of the county's Transportation/Agriculture Committee, stated, "I understand the importance of preserving our farmland from the perspective of a fellow farmer and as a county freeholder. Agricultural is a component of our county's economy. The Brooks' decision to carry on the family tradition in the farming business at Dusty Lane Farms will provide families in our county with access to local fresh produce."

"We were happy to partner in the preservation of this farm to protect the land and to help a young farmer with deep family roots in agriculture preserve economic opportunity and a way of life for future generations," said Agriculture Secretary Douglas H. Fisher.

"We applaud the commitment of the Brooks family to both New Jersey agriculture and to the preservation and protection of the prime soils on their farmland in Salem County," said Carrie Lindig, State Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Learning the Business Side of Farming

Michael Brooks is the son of William Brooks, a former member of the state Board of Agriculture who is now semi-retired from farming; and Diane Brooks, who is still active on the farm.

Brooks said he grew up not only driving a tractor and working the land, but also learning the business of running an agricultural operation. "It's not just sticking a seed in the ground," he noted. "There's a whole other side to farming."

Brooks joined Future Farmers of America (FFA) as a freshman in high school, and eventually became state president. Through his FFA agricultural experience project, he grew his own strawberries, then spinach, on part of his parents' farm, landing a contract to sell his produce to a local processor. At age 21, he was named one of FFA's four American Star Farmers national finalists.

Brooks believes that one of the keys to running a successful farm is adapting to changing market conditions.
One current initiative is partnering in a new Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation, Sorbello Farm, which will provide year-round home deliveries of fresh produce. "We're not sourcing outside southern New Jersey, so it really is local," he said.

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 more than 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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