delaware_water_gap_from_new_jersey2To strengthen our local food economy, we must increase the number of farmers on the land in northern New Jersey. Growing new farmers is a substantial challenge for our region, considering the following statistics.

  • Number of farms: The number of operational farms in northern NJ dropped 17% between 2007 and 2012.
  • Aging Farmers: The average age of a New Jersey farmer is 59. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of beginning farmers in the state dropped 34% and the number of farmers age 65 and older increased 30%.
  • High Cost of Land: New Jersey has the most expensive farmland in the US at $12,700 an acre. Farms that have been preserved under the NJ Farmland Preservation Program can cost less per acre, in the $5,000 to $6,000 acre range. (On a positive note, NJ has preserved about 222,000 acres under the state farmland preservation program, close to 30 percent of available agricultural lands, which is the highest percentage of any state in the nation.

In NJ, 40 percent of the land farmed is by someone who does not own it.

Stakeholders in the food, farming and land trust sectors are coming together to investigate ways to make it easier for farmers to get access to farmland in our state. The process took a step forward on June 7, 2016, when the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation hosted a meeting spearheaded by the New Jersey Land Trust Network, the Foodshed Alliance and the Ridge and Valley Conservancy. It was attended by more than 40 stakeholders.

david haightSpeakers included David Haight from American Farmland Trust who discussed the FarmLink program underway in the Hudson Valley; Kate Munning described the apprentice program at the Community Supported Garden at Genesis Farm in Blairstown; and Marcus Gray from North Jersey Resources Conservation & Development talked about the River Friendly Farm certification program.

Attendee Pat Huizing, executive director of Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NOFA-NJ), described New Jersey’s Farm Link Program, an online resource and referral center for farmers and landowners, developed by the State Agriculture Development Committee, NOFA-NJ, and the Rutgers Office of Research Analytics, through a grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Haight detailed how the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network, a project of American Farmland Trust, created the Hudson Valley Farmland Finder, an online database that connects farmers and landowners in the Hudson Valley.  The Hudson Valley Farmlink Network consists of 15 organizations that not only offer the Farmland Finder website, but also provides training and networking events, and one-on-one assistance for farmers and landowners.

This Hudson Valley model has proven very successful. Launched in October 2014, there have been:

  • 15,000 visitors to the Farmland Finder website;
  • 600 farmers and landowners have been trained;
  • 125 listings on the website;
  • 75 farmers have found land.

Here in New Jersey, the Farm Link Program is up and running but has not been upgraded or promoted recently as the grant supporting it has ended. There may be additional support from the State Agriculture Development Committee for the online database.

In addition, several stakeholders, including the Foodshed Alliance, are investigating ways to partner to replicates the strengths of the Hudson Valley program and provide training, networking and one-on-one assistance for farmers and landowners. Stay tuned for details as they emerge.