On June 25, 2021, Susan Payne, executive director of the NJ State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC), and members of her staff toured the Sussex SAgE site, meeting with the nine farmers who lease farmland here through the Foodshed Alliance’s land-access program.

Read New Jersey Herald’s coverage about how “Sussex County Community College, Newton High School reap rewards of farm partnership” at the Sussex SAgE site.

The Foodshed Alliance now owns preserved farmland in Sussex County where it leases 66 acres to nine new sustainable farm businesses.

“After working to restore our local food system for more than 10 years, this is a significant milestone for our organization and for our SAgE land-access program that provides affordable long-term access to preserved farmland to emerging and expanding sustainable farm enterprises,” said Kendrya Close, executive director, Foodshed Alliance. In just two years, the innovative Sustainable Agriculture Enterprise (SAgE) program has developed long-term affordable farmland access for 10 new organic farm business on over 70 acres of preserved farmland on two sites.

The transfer included a total of 333 acres of preserved farmland at the Muckshaw Preserve in Andover and Fredon Townships in Sussex County. The wooded, ecologically sensitive site includes 66 farmable acres which is being leased to nine new sustainable farms through the SAgE program. 

The property, which is located at 290 Route 206 South in Andover, has a rich, long history which began centuries ago when it was home to village sites for indigenous people. In the 20th century, the property was slated to become a housing development. For 20 years, a partnership team of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program, and the New Jersey State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) negotiated with multiple landowners and procured funding to officially and permanently protect the site from development in 2003.

In the years that followed, TNC managed the natural habitats and hiking trails, and leased the fields to local farmers. In early 2020, the site was transferred to Blairstown-based land trust Ridge and Valley Conservancy (RVC), an agreement which included leasing and eventually transferring the farm to the Foodshed Alliance for its SAgE program.

Thanks to the strategic vision of The Nature Conservancy, Ridge and Valley Conservancy and SADC, the Foodshed Alliance’s SAgE farmland-access program was always part of the transfer process. The leadership of these organizations recognized the benefit, potential and importance in creating new organic farm businesses on preserved farmland in our communities. “This program is trail-blazing and extraordinary and will set the pace for how we can help farmers in the future,” said Douglas Fisher, Secretary, NJ Department of Agriculture, at the SADC meeting where the transfer to the Foodshed Alliance was approved.

“We are grateful to all of our partners who worked with us to make this program happen, especially the Ridge and Valley Conservancy who collaborated closely with us from the very beginning, when we had just the seed of an idea for using preserved farmland to ‘grow’ new sustainable farms,” Close said. “They guided us on the intricacies of accessing and managing deed-restricted farmland, and they were instrumental in helping us get to this point.”

The SAgE program was designed to address one of the biggest challenges to New Jersey farmers—access to affordable farmland. New Jersey has the second most expensive farmland in the country, yet has preserved more of its farmland than any state in the country, about 33%.

Through this program, the Foodshed Alliance works with land trusts that hold deed-restricted farmland and facilitates farmers’ access to affordable 10-year lease agreements. Short-term leasing (usually 1 year) is the norm in New Jersey on deed-restricted farmland, and this is problematic for farmers since it inhibits investment in infrastructure and long-term improvement in soil health, critical to farmers using sustainable methods to produce food.

All of the available plots at Sussex SAgE are now leased by a diverse group of sustainable farmers. They include:

  • Sussex County Community College Student Farm. A learning farm teaching the future farmers of New Jersey.
  • Dark Earth Farm. A biodynamic farm growing hemp and vegetables, employing permaculture and regenerative practices.
  • Munsee Three Sisters Medicinal Farm. A Ramapough Lenape Native American farm cultivating hemp, vegetables, garlic and heritage & ancestral crops.
  • Seek-No-Further Fruit Farm. An organic orchard and berry farm.
  • Sunset View Farm. A vegetable and berry farm using permaculture design practices.
  • Lionshead Bee Farm. Pollinating the SAgE site by building sustainable bee colonies and producing honey and bees wax products.
  • USA Agro Farm. A goat farm whose owner brings his farming experience from his family farm in Nepal.
  • Growin’ Folx Farm. A first-generation family-owned, minority, 50% women owned/operated vegetable farm.
  • All Things Good Gardens. A woman-owned medicinal and culinary herb and flower farm, focused on making medicinal products for healing.

The SAgE program has another farm site in Warren County at Breadlock Park in Stewartsville, where it leases five acres to Bread Lock Botanicals, a woman-owned and operated organic flower, vegetable and herb farm.

The Foodshed Alliance is actively looking to expand the SAgE program by identifying additional sites throughout the state, as all available plots are filled at our existing sites. Working with urban agriculture partner organizations, we are also expanding farmer recruitment efforts to include black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and socially disadvantaged communities, where it is especially critical to offer opportunities of affordable land access and the ability to create farm businesses.

SAgE farmers must be dedicated to regenerative agriculture through the use of sustainable, organic and/or biodynamic methods (organic certification is not required as long as National Organic Program guidelines are used). We recruit farmers in the following categories, as appropriate to the land available: diversified vegetable, fruit, flowers, herbs, poultry (meat and/or eggs), swine, goat, orchards, hemp, heritage grains, and woodland products.

Besides providing affordable access to land in a 10-year lease, we provide guidance and support to help these farmers be successful by connecting them to resources, trainings and technical assistance.

Check out the SAgE Application which includes the program description and standards. For more information, contact eric@foodshedalliance.org.