Legislators introduce bill to safeguard local farmers and preserved lands

Legislation was introduced on Feb. 27 by Senator Dawn Marie Addiego, Assemblyman Chris Brown and Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg that safeguards the interest of local farmers who cultivate and harvest preserved lands.

The bill addresses a concern with current state law that requires a bidding process for farming rights that fails to consider a farmer’s long-established connection to the land.

“Burlington County has set a standard as a leader in the preservation of farmland, and when we invest to preserve a farm, the intent is to restrain development and growing property taxes, and also to perpetuate the history and heritage of the farming operation,” Senator Addiego said.

The legislation introduced today resulted from a request on behalf of local farmers from Burlington County Freeholder Director Leah Arter.

“We can’t underestimate the importance of promoting local farming when government enters leases for preserved land. Our preserved farms are local treasures, just as our farmers are local treasures,” Assemblywoman Rodriguez-Gregg said.

In a recent incident involving land purchased for preservation by the county in 2007, a local farmer negotiated a lease to continue farming the parcel for two years. When that original lease expired, the land was put to bid for farming purposes, and in the second round of bidding, the farm family with a long-standing relationship to the property was unsuccessful.

“This is a case of a hard-working Burlington County farmer who has worked in the same fields for many years. We want to continue this kind of tradition, and protect our county’s farmers,” Assemblyman Brown said.

Freeholder director Arter said those who lease land need to be protected.

“Farmers who lease land for farming from a public entity need to be protected. We should shield local famers who have for years invested their sweat and time into the soil from losing that right to a competitor without any local ties,” Freeholder director Arter said.