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Archive for the ‘The Politics of Agriculture’ Category

Two stories that highlight the dangerous games Governor Christie is playing with the state’s future:

1.) Atlantic City’s Revel resort, $1.3B in debt, faces potential bankruptcy or foreclosure

2.) NJ stallions seek greener pastures, find them in Pa.

“New Jersey is no longer competitive, putting more than 170,000 acres of equine farmland in jeopardy,” said Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association President Tom Luchento on the association’s website, sboanj.com. Luchento also pointed to what he said are more than 10,000 jobs at stake should New Jersey wind up out of the equine business.”

Research from the Rutgers Equine Center shows that the NJ equine industry has a $1.1 billion economic impact across the state and accounts for 13,000 jobs.

So it begs the question:

Q: Why are we gambling with New Jersey’s agricultural future?

But there some very simple answers that can help preserve NJ Agriculture and also rebuild Atlantic City.

a.) If preserving and improving Atlantic City is dependent on casinos and gaming activities, why not headquarter all of New Jersey’s gaming, equine and tourism marketing, regulatory and related law enforcement agencies in Atlantic City with satellite offices in Trenton and on the northern shore in Asbury Park, near Monmouth Park, or at Fort Monmouth?

b.) The partnership between Rutgers, Johnson & Johnson and the City of New Brunswick/Devco is widely seen as the key driver of the revitalization of New Brunswick over the last quarter century. Why not recreate this model in Atlantic City with state gaming, tourism and equine agencies and offices?

If we’re serious about saving and rebuilding Atlantic City why not allow gaming at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands and make Atlantic City the hub of New Jersey’s gaming and tourism agencies and commissions?

A steady stream of office workers everyday would help sustain and create new small businesses in Atlantic City itself.

Locating state and association headquarters and satellite offices in Atlantic City would also keep AC front of mind year-round, not just in the summer or when a casino hits hard times.

It’s not a quick fix, it’s a long-term process, but it’s a process that accounts for more than just the casino owner’s interests.

Cross-posted at Blue Jersey

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This is the first article for local publication in NJ I wrote after returning from New Orleans as State Communications Director for Repower America. It was published in the TriCityNews on January 21st 2010. TriCityNews only publishes in hard copy, so I reprinted it here, since it’s become suddenly relevant again in the last month.

So perhaps I’m crazy. After a decade in Minnesota where stores sell t-shirts emblazoned with umbrella-carrying penguins and the slogan “Minnesotans for Global Warming” I spent a chunk of 2009 in Louisiana where a football field’s worth of land disappears into the sea every 15 minutes.

So now I’m finally home in coastal Monmouth County in New Jersey – the Atlantic Coast state most threatened by sea level rise according to Geology, a science journal that reports on such things. New Jersey also happens to be the only eastern seaboard state with the same subsidence problem as Louisiana — the sinking of land due to geologic factors. Luckily New Jersey doesn’t suffer from the severity of the problem that Louisiana does — destruction of wetlands from oil and gas production and massive losses of land-building sediment from the mighty Mississippi, but New Jersey’s coastal lands are slowly sinking even as overall sea level rises.

Monmouth University began to address this issue last Friday with a conference on climate change impacts on the Jersey shore. The conference was organized to shed some light on the hazards facing our coastal communities. The presenters went to great lengths to emphasize that we not only face long-term threats from rising sea levels, but that we also face recurring threats from ordinary tidal flooding and storms simply because of our location in a coastal zone. Acting DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello’s comments that “we’re in a very vulnerable place, our job is keeping it on people’s minds” should make us think twice about what we do along our beloved shore. During lunch, I had the unexpected pleasure of sitting next to Bernie Moore, a long-time DEP administrator who spent forty years with the agency. His private comments mirrored Commissioner Mauriello’s public comments; that many of the issues we are discussing today – mitigating flood hazards, dealing with routine tidal flooding, the issue of riparian rights in fluid coastal zones, are issues that the DEP and their predecessor agencies have been dealing with for forty plus years.

The key issue both then and now seems to be a lack of political will to address these critical coastal issues in a responsible manner based on scientific realities. To be clear, scientific reality does not exclude economic opportunity. By following a simple principle of ecology – all systems are interrelated — we can start to create a future that builds on our area’s uniqueness by taking advantage of our remaining farms, fields, and streams.

New Jersey is a unique state as many people from around the country are fond of telling us. But our uniqueness arises not only from our culture but also from our history and our geography. We’re the Garden State and for much of our history we provided tables in New York, Philadelphia, and other eastern states with corn, tomatoes, peaches, blueberries, cranberries, potatoes, eggs, and poultry.

After moving back to New Jersey I was amazed that many of the small local farms, pocket farms really, still dotted much of the New Jersey landscape. Many are gone, but many do remain and it’s still very easy to pick up some fresh, in-season produce. For me, local farms and fields are part of great childhood memories with my grandparents. I remember pulling off the Parkway on the way to Asbury Park and seeing nothing but farms, fields, and streams as we drove to the boardwalk. So to honor both their memories and the Garden State’s agricultural legacy I created a small blog called Pocket Farms – Keeping Jersey Fresh. Subtitled Agriculture and Local Markets in the Garden State, the blog is designed as a resource center for those interested in local agriculture and a place to explore farmers markets, local farms and unique agricultural initiatives like the proposed Upper Freehold Historic Byway.

This is not just an exercise in idle nostalgia. Local agriculture can play a critical role in helping to mitigate climate change, diversifying New Jersey’s economy, creating jobs and redeveloping communities like Asbury Park. While living in New Orleans I began to note significant similarities between Asbury Park and New Orleans – a rich cultural history, people with passionate, almost mystical connections to the city, poverty, educational challenges and a need for good local jobs that encompass more than tourism. In Asbury Park there may be opportunity to build new food processing businesses that use local agriculture and employ local people to supply our homes, hotels, B&Bs and restaurants with locally farmed, locally produced foods.

We have an opportunity to recreate a sustainable Jersey Shore ecology that stretches from the farms to the beaches and that benefits farmers, small business owners, workers and students alike. All it takes is political will and a willingness to face scientific reality now rather than later.

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Recently the 106 acre George H. Urban farm in West Deptford Township was preserved via the efforts of Gloucester County Freeholder Robert Damminger. The newly preserved farm sits adjacent to 42 acres of previously preserved open space and has been owned and farmed by the same family since 1938. Over the course of its history the Urban farm has produced watermelon, tomatoes and asparagus and been a key part of the agricultural landscape of the South Jersey river towns. During his time in office, Freeholder Damminger has helped to preserve 17,690 acres of farmland and open space across Gloucester County.

This local announcement came a week after New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher and State Senate President Steve Sweeney announced a major milestone in the New Jersey Farmland Preservation Program, the acquisition of 200,00 acres of preserved farmland across New Jersey.

Local efforts like Freeholder Damminger’s in West Deptford contribute greatly to the state’s efforts to continue to preserve New Jersey farmlands and ensure that farming remains a viable economic activity throughout New Jersey.

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Salem County’s Cassaday Farms recently joined the state’s farmland preservation program, helping the state to surpass a critical milestone of 200,000 acres of permanently preserved farmland.

On October 9th, NJ Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher and State Senate President Steve Sweeney joined George Cassady, the owner of Cassaady Farms, and other local officials to celebrate this milestone. Cassady plans on using some of the proceeds he will receive from the Farmland Preservation Fund to purchase additional farmland which he then plans to preserve under the program as well.

The Gloucester County Times Editorial Board in discussing the state’s farmland preservation efforts came out with strong support for continuing the farmland preservation program and rightly notes that under this plan 14,698 acres of farmland have been preserved in Gloucester County and an additional 13,000 acres of farmland in Cumberland County have been preserved as well. Salem County leads the state with 29,418 acres of farmland preserved.

The state’s overall goal is to preserve 550,000 acres of farmland statewide which is roughly equivalent to the existing farmland acreage in New Jersey. Over a thirty year period, New Jersey lost 384,000 acres of farmland to development and large-lot development is increasingly becoming the norm in New Jersey’s suburban and semi-rural counties. Or perhaps more precisely, counties that used to be semi-rural.

Farmland preservation is an issue of great economic importance to the state. Preserving and growing our statewide farming activities and redeveloping our agricultural processing sector is the right way to come back.

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Great Wall Street Journal Report segment this morning on urban farming in Brooklyn. Maria Bartiromo interviewed Ben Flanner the Brooklyn Grange CEO, Ben Flanner and Brightfarms CEO Paul Lightfoot.

Flanner runs one of the largest rooftop soil farms in the world which focuses on direct sales to the local community via sales to local restaurants, farmers markets and CSA shares.

Lightfoot focuses on a different model which focuses on building strong local agriculture supply chains by helping to finance and develop hydroponic greenhouses in under utilized urban spaces. Lightfoot has produce supply agreements with A&P, SuperValu, and Cub (a supermarket brand of SuperValu). Brightfarms is operating in Brooklyn and Chicago and building a facility in St. Paul Minnesota as well.

We’re starting to see movement on urban agriculture here in New Jersey, the Schools Development Authority is leasing land in Newark’s South Ward as an urban farm but overall we lag the urban farming movements quickly growing in Brooklyn, Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul and other northern urban centers.

However, New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher has a been an early proponent of

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Today’s announcement that Roche would be locating it’s new clinical transfer facility in the brand-new Alexandria Life Sciences Center on Manhattan’s Lower East Side makes Lt. Governor Gudagno’s New Jersey’s agribusiness tour in August even more important, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more efforts like this.

Having been heavily engaged in the Roche negotiations and losing should serve as a wake-up call to Governor Christie and his administration that competing for jobs in the knowledge economy requires investments in intellectual capital resources such as public universities and in developing regional economic clusters that build off of the state’s competitive advantages.

Companies and creative class professionals want to locate near each other and not be reliant on traffic-choked highways to collaborate and meet.

By playing politics with the much-needed Rutgers University/UMDNJ merger last Spring, refusing to reverse the twenty-year decline in state funding to Rutgers, and killing transit projects, the Christie administration has failed to put together the basic building blocks needed to compete with a global city like New York for jobs and investments. It’s no surprise that the pharma industry is following the communications industry out the door and to other states when our state refuses to invest in the basics of success.

Education, transportation, and open space in the nation’s most densely populated state are essential to retaining and attracting companies and educated professionals. The days of growing an economy by offering tax incentives to build facilities in sprawling suburbs and on pancake flat farmland are gone. Those chickens have come home to roost in the form of traffic-choked highways, crumbling sewer and water infrastructures and property tax burdens that can barely meet the needs of municipal budgets and schools.

However, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture under the leadership of Secretary Doug Fisher, along with Lt. Governor Guadagno and her team, put together a tour of businesses in New Jersey’s agriculture and food sectors last August that highlighted this historic business ecosystem and the role it can play in New Jersey’s economic future. Throughout the month of August Lieutenant Governor Guadagno and Secretary Fisher visited both traditional and cutting edge food systems enterprises across the state.

New Jersey has 10,300 farms operating on roughly 550,000 acres of New Jersey’s 4.8 million acre land base and contributes annual sales of about $1.1 billion dollars to the state’s economy. The Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgton has assisted in the development of 40 new food products while serving 1,300 clients and training over 1,000 people since its launch in 2001. The open space and watersheds associated with New Jersey agriculture also help power a $45 billion dollar tourism, fisheries and marine industry.

New Jersey’s true competitive advantages can be found in the development of regional food systems that serve some of our nation’s largest markets. It’s going to become increasingly difficult to compete for intellectual capital driven businesses with New York and Philadelphia when we refuse to invest in our public colleges and universities and play politics with our flagship AAU-member state university.

Losing Roche’s facilities to a city and state that is pursuing an aggressive and forward looking approach to developing overlapping ecosystems of knowledge-intensive industries should come as no surprise.

While we need to invest in our intellectual capital long-term, short and medium term solutions to New Jersey’s economic woes exist via our farms and food companies. Let’s make the right choices and invest in this industry and business ecosystem while protecting our rapidly dwindling land base and increasingly threatened watersheds.

Cross-posted at Blue Jersey

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I hate the colloquial on this legislation because I think it degrades small-scale farmers, but there are issues that this bill does do a good job addressing which I discussed in this post Beck Sweeny Bill on Farmland Assessment Clears Budget Committee.

Since I wrote this post the bill has cleared the NJ State Senate and the Star Ledger ran a Sunday Story on the bill.

The article emphasizes the potential loss of up to 398,000 acres of NJ farmland if the minimum agricultural sales required for property tax exemption was raised to $10,000, instead of the $,1000 currently in the bill. Those figures are based on a 2008 study by the NJ Agricultural Experiment Station. That’s almost half of the agricultural acreage in the state, which is a significant component of NJ’s open spaces.

The best part of the bill however are the proof of income requirements and the training that will be required of tax assessors in areas with significant agricultural activity. This should help ferret out some of the more egregious abuses and game-playing while protecting small holdings that are either leased to farmers or farmed by the owners themselves.

The next step is to get rigorous woodlands management plans in place for landowners who make property tax claims on their woodlot operations. That appears to be the area where most of the abuse occurs and is an area that falls outside of the purview of the NJ Department of Agriculture.

Perhaps consolidating all activities pertaining to open space property tax exemptions within the NJ Ag department could make review and enforcement easier. The department is already a significant player in open space management through it’s farmland preservation program and the State Agriculture Development Committee.

The bill goes through the State Assembly in the Fall and then hopefully to the Governor’s desk.

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