News

Two family farms preserved in Alloway Township

Jul 31, 2019

ALLOWAY TWP. – Longstanding efforts to protect the township’s rural character and agricultural heritage were recently boosted with the preservation of two family farms totaling 77 acres.

With the help of New Jersey Conservation Foundation and partners, Salem County purchased the development rights on the 33-acre Sickler farm on Ballinger’s Mill Road and the 44-acre Gentile farm on Alloway-Aldine Road on June 26. The two farms remain in private ownership but are now permanently restricted to agricultural use.

Owners Kurt Sickler and Ben Gentile both said they decided to preserve their farmland out of a desire to keep the area agricultural.

“I didn’t want to see any more houses built around this area,” explained Sickler, whose family has been farming in Alloway Township for five generations.

Gentile, who is retired and living at the New Jersey shore, feels the same way about his land, which he eventually hopes to sell to a local farmer. “It’s a nice piece of property and I didn’t want to see a builder come in,” he said.

Sickler Farm

In 2006, under a previous owner, the Sickler farm was fully approved for 27-homes. At the time, Kurt Sickler and his wife, Donna, were neighbors, living on an adjacent farm that has been in his family since the late 1800s.

The developer went bankrupt before the houses could be built, and the Sicklers purchased the land to prevent it from being sold at auction – possibly to another developer. “We bought it because it was in our backyard and we didn’t want to see all those homes,” he said.

The newly-preserved farm is used for growing hay and soybeans, and borders preserved farmland and open space.  One adjoining property is the original 125-acre Sickler family farm, which was preserved about five years ago. Another is a local Boy Scout camp, protected by a conservation easement.

The property’s soils are 92 percent “prime” and 8 percent “statewide important,” the two highest soil quality classifications.  The land includes critical habitat for several endangered and threatened grassland bird species, and is valuable for its ability to recharge underground water supplies.

New Jersey Conservation Foundation helped finance the project by providing $110,962 in funding from a U.S. Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service Agricultural Conservation Easement Program grant toward the $206,662 easement purchase price. The rest came from a Planning Incentive Grant to Alloway Township from the State Agriculture Development Committee.

Gentile Farm

The Gentile farm is used for growing hay and pasturing horses. The property’s soils are 64 percent “prime” and 26 percent “statewide important” soils, with the remainder forested.

As with the Sickler farm, New Jersey Conservation Foundation used funding from U.S. Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service’s program to help with the cost of purchasing the development rights on the land.

New Jersey Conservation contributed $133,303 toward the $247,313 easement purchase price, with the remainder covered by a Planning Incentive Grant to Alloway Township from the State Agriculture Development Committee.

“Preserving family farms is very important to Alloway Township, and we’re excited to add another 77 acres,” said Alloway Township Committeeman Warren Morgan III, liaison to the township’s Agricultural Advisory Committee. “The township now has over 4,100 acres in farmland preservation, and we thank New Jersey Conservation Foundation for working with us on these and other farmland projects.”

New Jersey Conservation Foundation has partnered with Alloway Township on several previous farmland preservation projects in the past five years, including the 55-acre Robbins-Williams farm and the 42-acre McAlonan farm in 2018.

Keeping Land Available for Farming

“As an active farmer, I understand how proud Salem County is of its agricultural heritage and the desire to keep land available to grow food for the generations to come,” said Andrew Buzby, chairman of the Salem County Agriculture Development Committee. “New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a key player in preserving Salem County farmland.  Fran Rapa (project manager) has worked diligently to secure project funding from private, state and federal sources.  Fran’s creative efforts have certainly made a difference in Salem County.”

Carrie Lindig, State Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said,  “Preserving these two Salem County farms, both with prime soils, clearly meets the goal of NRCS’s Agricultural Conservation Easements  Program (ACEP) Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) investment to help conserve agricultural lands and their related benefits.”

“We are proud of the role the State Agriculture Development Committee continues to play in preserving farmland in New Jersey,” said state Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher. “It is great to once again partner with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation to ensure agriculture will remain a permanent part of the landscape in Salem County and across the Garden State.”

About New Jersey Conservation Foundation

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 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 www.njconservation.org or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).

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By Michele S. Byers,
Executive Director