John and Donna’s Szczechowski’s farm in LAC Township was the backdrop for Freeholder Director Jack Kugler recognizing milestone of 100 preserved farms in Salem County. Looking on from left: Donna and John Szczechowski, Agriculture Secretary Charles Kuperus, State Assemblyman John Burzichelli and State Senator Steven Sweeney. Not pictured are Freeholders Ben Simmermon and Chuck Sullivan.
Salem County Statistics as of June 2003:
100 farms preserved totaling 15, 202 acres.
29 farms are in the works for preservation totaling 2,468 acres.
News article courtesy Today’s Sunbeam:
County farms mark milestone
Tuesday, June 03, 2003
By PHILIP SEAN CURRAN, Staff Writer
LOWER ALLOWAYS CREEK TWP. — Salem County recently became only the third county in the state to have 100 or more farms in the farmland preservation program, officials said Monday.
Agriculture Secretary Charles M. Kuperus called the 100 figure a “milestone for Salem County.” He and several state officials were on hand at an afternoon press conference to make the announcement.
The county reached the 100 mark in March, with a farm located in Upper Pittsgrove. That put Salem County in exclusive company: Hunterdon and Burlington counties are the only other places that have 100 or more preserved farms. Trailing them in fourth place is Cumberland County, which has 71.
At the moment, Salem County’s total stands at 102. State officials on Monday were at the home of John and Donna Szczechowski, whose farm on Harasta Road went into the program last month.
Theirs was one of two farms that were preserved May 28, and lifted Salem County over the century mark. The other was in Elsinboro.
John Szczechowski, appearing beside Kuperus, said he had bought his approximately 100-acre farm 10 years ago mainly to hunt. Last year, the Delaware native married, and has built a new home on his property.
Since buying what had been a dormant farm, he has worked to transform it by planting crops and making other improvements.
“What you see today is a working farm,” Szczechowski said.
Farmland preservation began in 1983, having cost $488.29 million. The money goes to acquiring the development rights on the farm, officials said.
Since the program started 20 years ago, 886 farms have been preserved statewide, totaling 107,934 acres, state officials said.
Of those acres, 15,317 are in Salem County. The county ranks second in total acreage, trailing only Burlington County, which has 15,838, state officials said.
Monday’s announcement came after Gov. James E. McGreevey in the morning signed a series of bills that provide $73.2 million for future farmland preservation, Kuperus said.
He said the McGreevey administration “is committed to preserving 20,000 acres of farmland a year.”
State officials said farmland preservation was a way to slow the spread of sprawl.
“We’re actually in a race with development,” said state Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney, D-3rd Dist. “We have to do everything we can to prevent the loss of the way of life that we have down here right now.”
The other side of farmland preservation is aiding the state’s farmers, officials said.
They said an ethanol plant, to open in West Deptford, was an important step to helping farmers and finding markets for them.
Farmland preservation is popular with residents of Salem county. Last year, voters supported a non-binding referendum dedicating two cents of the county tax rate for that purpose.
Earlier this year, Freeholders announced they had set aside around $700,000 to preserve farmland. Money was found in capital accounts.
A program allows the state to bear 75 percent of the costs, and the county 25 percent, official said.
Republicans have said county Democrats have failed to find a way to preserve farmland beyond this year.
Freeholder R. Benjamin Simmermon Jr., a Republican who was at Monday’s news conference, said in a statement that the “county administration has not guaranteed a stable funding source for farmland preservation, something that the voters asked the county to do.”
Freeholder Director Jack Kugler, also at the event, said: “Each administration will have to make that decision on a yearly basis on where to find the two cents or county portion of farmland preservation. It’s just a matter of finding the money.”