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Cumberland County preservation keeps farmer on the farm


New Jersey Conservation Foundation

LAWRENCE TWP. – Ever since she was a little girl, Debbie Burns wanted to be a farmer. She realized her dream five years ago when she bought a 19-acre farm outside Millville, where she grows hay and raises chickens, goats and sheep.


But Burns quickly learned that she couldn’t afford to pay her mortgage through full-time farming. She had to work off the farm to keep the farm.


That situation is improving, now that Burns has preserved her farm on Ramah Road by selling the development rights.


In partnership with New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the state and federal farmland preservation programs, Cumberland County bought the development rights from Burns for $114.120 in August. Although Burns will retain ownership of the property, its use is permanently restricted to agriculture through a farmland easement.


Burns said the sale of the development rights enabled her to pay down her mortgage.


“This allows me to work less hard at other things so I have more time to farm,” said Burns, who grew up in suburbia and learned about farming by reading books. “I’d rather spend my time on the land as long as I can afford to do it.”


The use of federal Farm and Ranchland Preservation Program (FRPP) funding was a first for Cumberland County.




The county originally planned to use its own open space funds to match a $62,766 grant from the State Agriculture Development Committee.


But New Jersey Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit that preserves land and natural resources, offered to contribute $51,354 from its FRPP grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. The contribution allowed Cumberland County to use its funds for other open space and farmland preservation projects.


“We were very happy to help preserve this farm,” said Greg Romano, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s assistant director and head of its land preservation program. “One of our most important goals is to keep farming viable for the farmers.”


 “The Natural Resource Conservation Service is excited to partner with Cumberland County in the preservation of prime agricultural lands,” said Tom Drewes, State Conservationist. “The Burns farm typifies New Jersey’s quality soils, where it’s possible to produce high value specialty agricultural products and make them available to local markets.”


Burns grew up in Moorestown and Medford Lakes, and has been drawn to farming for as long as she can remember. “I love to grow plants and animals, and always have,” she said.


After spending many years earning a living by renovating houses and selling or renting them, Burns bought the Lawrence Township farm in 2005. It was in dilapidated condition – the farmhouse dates back to about 1750 – but she was up to the challenge.


Most of the farm is currently in hay production, but Burns also raises 20 heritage breeds of free-range chickens and sells their multi-colored eggs to a local farm market. In addition, she raises lambs, goats and guinea fowl.


Although Burns may never be a full-time farmer – she’s studying to become a part-time court stenographer – preserving her farm has allowed her to spend more time doing what she loves most.  “It’s a dream for me; this farm is my dream home,” she said. “I have always wanted to do this.”



New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private nonprofit whose mission is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. Since 1960, the Foundation has protected more than 120,000 acres, or 187 square miles. For more information on programs and preserves, visit www.njconservation.orgor call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).



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