By Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen |
FREEHOLD – For people who do most of their daily traveling east of the Garden State Parkway, it may come as a bit of a surprise that Monmouth County has 823 farms sitting on 38,961 acres.
Also, that the market value of the agricultural products sold by those farms in 2012 was $84.4 million, with crops making up 80 percent of those sales and livestock 20 percent, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, which is compiled nationally every five years.
The idea of living next to a bucolic setting in a metropolitan area may sound like a good idea. But what happens when the farmer’s tractor kicks up clouds of dust or he turns his fields into a corn maze that attracts thousands of cars and people?
That’s what the Right to Farm Act is designed to address. Signed into law in 1983, it resolves issues and conflicts between farm businesses and residential and commercial neighbors. The first seminar on the topic was hosted Jan. 31 by the Monmouth County Division of Planning’s Environmental and Sustainability Planning Section at Monmouth County’s Agricultural Building, 4000 Kozloski Road, Freehold.
About 70 people attended, including Monmouth County Agriculture Development board members, municipal land use and health officials, owners of preserved farms, beginning farmers and participants in the Grown in Monmouth program.
Harriet Honigfeld, from the Division of Planning, explained complaints must first be filed with the County Agriculture Development Board (CADB) or the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC) before they can be taken to court.
The county received more than 20 inquiries related to right to farm in 2017. Some were handled informally or directed to other authorities. Several resulted in public hearings that could be time consuming.
She and speakers Brian Smith, chief of legal affairs for SADC, and his associate, legal specialist Alison Reynolds, all encouraged farmers to be proactive with their neighbors and for neighbors to talk about any issues with the farmer to avoid nuisance suits.
“CADB’s job is to balance farming interests with nonfarming interests,” Smith said. “Farming can’t endanger public health and safety.”
To be a commercial farm, according to the Farm Act, it must operate on 5 acres or more and produce at least $2,500 annually (482 farms in Monmouth County reported more than that in 2012.) Less than 5 acres, the annual production requirement is $50,000. Both must satisfy the requirements for farmland assessment.
Approved farm activities include producing agriculture or horticulture; replace soil nutrients and soil tilth; conduct on-site disposal of organic agricultural waste; process and package the farm’s output; operate a farm market; solar, wind or biomass generation, equine activities, and beekeeping.
Honigfeld said she receives the most complaints from Howell, Marlboro and Colts Neck for a number of reasons. Many are about business versus farm. Recently, concerns are special events and agritourism (activities that bring visitors to a farm, such as picking fruit or feeding animals).
“Some of our farms have been proposing special events that potentially could be covered under RTF regulations, particularly if they are promoting and helping draw the public into being aware and purchasing products grown and produced on the farm,” she said. “I will tell you, since this has been coming up, weddings are not covered under the RTF regulations.”
This month, she said, CADB will be reviewing its first request for farm-to-table events using produce grown on the farm. She declined to be specific because the case has not yet been heard.
“This is a really big and burgeoning area for our farmers and municipalities, all over the state, in fact,” she said. “But more public interface on the farm itself brings all kinds of issues and questions when you have a lot of people for the evening or afternoon.”
She cited health codes, waste water as well as bathroom and parking issues.
“These all need to be addressed, but certainly it’s a direction a number of our farmers are looking to take,” she said. “We certainly have a lot of people moving into growing herbs and vegetables and all sorts of things that can be made into a value-added product to be sold and presented to the public.”
Elaine Taylor, chairwoman of the Howell Farmers Advisory Committee and owner of Shangri La Farm where she grows organic vegetables, medicinal and culinary herbs on 5.3 acres, said her goal was to unite farmers.
“I hope to take all this information and move in a positive direction,” she added.
This article was first published in the Feb. 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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