Tension builds as farmland auction approaches

By Chris Sturgis

Special to the Times

Old soil, new hands: Saved farmland awaits auction

When William Pettit and his wife Dorothy first began farming nearly 58 years ago, there were close to 400 dairy farms in Burlington County.

Today, there are three.

While that number may seem disheartening, a symbol of simpler times come and gone, an upcoming auction of preserved county farmland seeks to put land back in the hands of farmers while keeping it safe from development.

David Gard/For The TimesThe C. Petit farm in Pemberton is up for auction.

Pettit, 83, a longtime farmer and former mayor of Springfield, first encouraged one of his sons to sell his land almost 20 years ago and has recently followed suit, selling a 62-acre parcel across town from the farm where he currently works and resides.

“I was 65 and in the mood to slow up, and I told him if he wanted to stay in the dairy business he better go where the cows are,” Pettit said. His son moved to Minnesota, opening a dairy operation there, and a second Pettit son followed last year.

David Gard/For The TimesThe C. Petit farm in Pemperton.

Now, the 62-acre Pettit Sr. farm in Juliustown is on the auction block, available to any buyer who wants to establish a farming operation on preserved land. It’s one of eight farms in all, just east of McGuire Air Force Base, that are being offered for sale.

The farms range from 36 to a whopping 202 acres, and all were bought and preserved by the county in the last two and a half years. Some were bought from developers, others from families or aging farmers looking to get out of the difficult business of farming, but all include deed restrictions that require the land to be used strictly for agricultural purposes.

“All of these properties were at various risk of being developed for non-agricultural purposes,” said Dan Kennedy, the Burlington County Farmland Preservation Program coordinator. “Our goal is to have agricultural land remain in Burlington County to help retain the farming industry.”

As the average age of farmers creeps higher and the amount of land available diminishes, causing farmers to retire or move to the less-congested Midwest, as Pettit’s son did, more and more land is being freed up for county preservation. Burlington County alone already has more than 50,000 preserved acres, with more being added every day, as indicated by the auction.

Realtor Max Spann, whose company, Max Spann Real Estate and Auction, is overseeing the land sale, says Pettit’s story is a common one.

“Usually the motivation for people selling the farms is they’re retiring or they may be looking to move their farming operation west so they can have a larger operation. There’s a variety of reasons,” he said.

“A lot of them sell it to the county rather than the developer because a lot of them have been there for years and can’t stand to see the farmland turned into houses,” he continued. “That’s a very big motivator.”

The auction will take place Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Rutgers EcoComplex in Bordentown. There, attendees can bid on the eight sprawling Burlington County properties, including Pettit’s former acreage and a 120-acre plot complete with picturesque farmhouse, barns and silos once owned by his son, Chris.

“By transferring these farms back to private ownership, the county will get these lands into the hands of farmers who can invest and sustain these farms at no future cost to taxpayers,” said county Freeholder Bill Haines.

There are more farms in New Jersey than 40 years ago. But a U.S. Agriculture Department census finds Garden State farmers have less land to work. The department’s 2007 Census shows that between 2002 and 2007 farm acreage in New Jersey dropped 9 percent, from 805,682 acres to 733,450 acres in 2007.

Burlington, Sussex, and Hunterdon counties saw the largest declines. However, acreage increased in Atlantic, Salem, Passaic and Essex counties.

In 2007, Burlington had 922 farms, with the average size being 93 acres, according to the census. Mercer had 311 farms, averaging 70 acres each; Monmouth, 932 farms, averaging 47 acres; and Hunterdon, 1,623 farms, averaging 62 acres.

The Burlington farmland preservation program has headed off much housing construction on rolling fields that developers might have peppered with driveways and lawn sprinklers.

One such high-risk property was the former Bell Farm in North Hanover, whose land was slated to be developed into 28 houses. The county promptly stepped in and purchased the land from developers in an attempt to keep clear the buffer between nearby McGuire Air Force Base and local neighborhoods.

“The military is always concerned about having neighbors near the bases because of complaints of aircraft flying overhead,” said Spann.

Kennedy estimates that the county has spent close to $16 million purchasing farmland directly from farmers and developers as part of an open space fund approved by county taxpayers. Spann said farmers selling their lands often prefer to sell directly to the county, so they don’t have to labor through the lengthy process of preserving the land themselves.

The auction is expected to raise $5 million, all of which will be funneled back into the farmland preservation fund to purchase more farms and protect more land.

Spann is unsure of how much money the properties will fetch in an unstable real estate market, but at a 2007 auction, farms were purchased at a cost of $3,500 to $10,000 per acre. Spann, who has sold more than 5,000 acres of preserved farmland in the past five years or so, says variables include whether the property includes dwellings like houses and barns, where the farm is located and soil quality.

Potential buyers may be farmers looking to add to their extensive land holdings or buyers hoping to start a horse or tree nursery operation.

Pettit says he doesn’t care who buys his former land, as long as it continues to be used for farming. Although he and his wife still live on the original farm they’ve owned since 1951, he said it’s always hard to part with the fields he worked for so many years.

“If you want to know the truth, it was very tough for me to give it up, but age dominates me a little bit,” he said. “I’m still active and I still have farm equipment. I keep at it, and I enjoy life.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Categories: Agriculture, Business, Community, Development, Economy,Mercer Regional News, Military, News, Northern Burlington, Times Extra

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Islamic society grows in central Jersey

BY CHRIS STURGIS

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — Dalya Youssef wants her son, Yousuf Abdelfatah, to feel more confident about practicing the Islamic faith than she did when she attended public schools.

The Franklin Township mother, who is also a lawyer, remembered feeling timid about doing her midday prayer ritual in school when she was growing up in Monroe Township.

She said she didn’t begin the Muslim practice of covering her hair with a headscarf known as a hajib until her freshman year in college. The practice of covering oneself usually begins at puberty.

“I delayed it because I didn’t have enough confidence,” she said.

Therefore, she and her husband sent their son to Noor-Ul-Iman School on the South Brunswick campus of the Islamic Society of Central New Jersey, which has a full-time parochial school covering pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Enrollment at the Route 1 school was 480 last year and is expected to top 500 in September.

Now Youssef’s son prays alongside his classmates, not in isolation, as she did.

“Plus, I think he gets an excellent education,” she said.

Earlier this month, the society broke ground on $5 million of infrastructure improvements to be followed by the building of a new, two-story 70,000-square-foot school, which will have the library, auditorium and gymnasium the school now lacks.

More critical, though, is that the license from South Brunswick to use modular buildings for the school expires in December, said Islamic Society president Aly Aziz.

“We have to show the township we are working on permanent facilities,” he said.

The infrastructure, consisting of water lines, electrical cables, a detention basin, new street entrances, a 600-car parking lot, and a concrete platform for the school building, is literally laying the groundwork for a much broader expansion plan that will take years to construct, he said.

South Brunswick has approved a master plan for a new mosque and an income-generating office building on the 16-acre campus. Four Rutgers University graduates seeking a sense of belonging founded the society 40 years ago.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Youssef said. “I would love to see my son have a real high school with all the facilities.”

Another mother, Heba Macksoud, said she sent her twin daughters, Jenna and Jada, age 7, to the society’s preschool, but has since put them in public school. They come to the Islamic society for weekend religious education classes, she said.

Macksoud, a former vice president of marketing at MTV, said she loved the school’s attentive atmosphere, but hated paying tuition for substandard facilities.

“It’s a huge investment,” she said. “I’d rather save the money for college.”

Macksoud, a native New Yorker who first came to the Islamic Center at age 8, said the new school shows the Islamic community can sustain a parochial school system like other religions.

“We will soon have something that my kids can be proud of that is beautiful and institutional, rather than something slapped together from trailers,” she said.

School principal Janet Nazif said the new school will be more spacious and comfortable for students and staff. The essence of the program won’t change because it is the dedication of the teachers and the parents who support their efforts.

She started as a teacher with the school founded 16 years ago. There were only 27 students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade. The school expanded by a couple of grades per year, until six years ago when the first class of high school seniors graduated.

“When it started, there were a lot of naysayers, who said we wouldn’t be able to help these children succeed, but they have been proven wrong,” she said.

All of the high school graduates have been accepted to college, including some Ivy League institutions, she said.

There are 220 Islamic schools in the U.S., including 17 in New Jersey, according to the Islamic Schools League of America based in Falls Church, Va.

The schools are growing the fastest in areas with large Muslim populations, including New York State, Michigan and Washington, D.C., according to the organization, which formed 11 years ago to help new schools benefit from the experience of established institutions.

Yet, as the Muslim community gains prominence in American society, members say they are unfairly associated with Middle Eastern terrorism.

Macksoud said terrorism comes from uneducated, unemployed youth who can be convinced the U.S. is the source of their misery.

By contrast, the Islamic Society of Central New Jersey comprises well-educated professionals with successful careers, she said, noting her pride that the society donated statutes to adorn the entrance to the South Brunswick Public Library.

“It shows that we love our community and want to get involved every which way,” she said.

The society includes immigrants from 20 nations around the globe and first-generation Americans like herself.

Aziz said the diverse 2,000-member society counters prejudice by issuing statements condemning terrorist acts.

He said Islam is at its essence a peaceful religion. Muslims greet each other with the words, “Assalamo Alikom” meaning “Peace be upon you.”

The response is to say it in reverse, “Alikom Assalamo.”

“We do not consider (terrorists) Muslims because Islam is a religion of peace,” Aziz said.

This article originally appeared in the Times of Trenton (NJ) on June 28, 2009 and was posted on the affiliated website, NJ.com.

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Title Florida shines if you want your own home
Media Site: http://www.tampabay.comTitle Florida shines if you want your own home
Media Site: http://www.tampabay.com
Co-Cities: Tampa and Jacksonville, FL
Primary URL: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/2014/best-places-homeownership/
By Christina Sturgis
Florida cities are very well represented on Nerd Wallet’s list of best metros for homeownership. Ocala and Naples are on the list of small metros; the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville area is on the li
medium-sized metros and Jacksonville is on the list of large metros.
Nerd Wallet’s criteria are a high rate of homeownership, a high median income and a low cost of living. The Sunshine State’s median income, $47,309 is lower than the U.S. median of $53,046, which usually helps it in state-to-state comparisons. The cost of living is lower, too. For example, Ocala and Tampa have an equal cost of living of 88 on a scale with 100 as the U.S. average. Tampa’s housing index is 60 and Ocala’s is 59 on that same scale.
It is not surprising that Florida cities pop up on the 30 city list divided into three tiers. Florida’s homeownership rate is 68.1 percent, a bit higher than the 65.5 percent for the nation as a whole. Naples (79.4 percent) and Palm Bay (75.2 percent) and Titusville (68.3 percent) all exceed the U.S. rate. Tampa (51.7 percent), Ocala (51.9 percent) and Melbourne (62.3 percent.) are below the national average.
Nerd Wallet theorizes that a high rate of homeownership means there is an inventory of homes for sale and more opportunity to become a homeowner than in a more competitive market. Tampa’s coastal location may present a more desirable quality of life that makes homeownership a more competitive endeavor. That doesn’t mean central Florida doesn’t emphasize its assets; Ocala, for example, has a more inland location, but is betting the stables of the horse racing industry and myriad outdoor adventures will draw residents.
Jacksonville, also a coastal city, is not only touting sports, blues and country music, but invites the public to take advantage of fine medical and meeting facilities. Title Florida shines if you want your own home
Media Site: http://www.tampabay.com
Co-Cities: Tampa and Jacksonville, FL
Primary URL: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/2014/best-places-homeownership/
By Christina Sturgis
Florida cities are very well represented on Nerd Wallet’s list of best metros for homeownership. Ocala and Naples are on the list of small metros; the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville area is on the li
medium-sized metros and Jacksonville is on the list of large metros.
Nerd Wallet’s criteria are a high rate of homeownership, a high median income and a low cost of living. The Sunshine State’s median income, $47,309 is lower than the U.S. median of $53,046, which usually helps it in state-to-state comparisons. The cost of living is lower, too. For example, Ocala and Tampa have an equal cost of living of 88 on a scale with 100 as the U.S. average. Tampa’s housing index is 60 and Ocala’s is 59 on that same scale.
It is not surprising that Florida cities pop up on the 30 city list divided into three tiers. Florida’s homeownership rate is 68.1 percent, a bit higher than the 65.5 percent for the nation as a whole. Naples (79.4 percent) and Palm Bay (75.2 percent) and Titusville (68.3 percent) all exceed the U.S. rate. Tampa (51.7 percent), Ocala (51.9 percent) and Melbourne (62.3 percent.) are below the national average.
Nerd Wallet theorizes that a high rate of homeownership means there is an inventory of homes for sale and more opportunity to become a homeowner than in a more competitive market. Tampa’s coastal location may present a more desirable quality of life that makes homeownership a more competitive endeavor. That doesn’t mean central Florida doesn’t emphasize its assets; Ocala, for example, has a more inland location, but is betting the stables of the horse racing industry and myriad outdoor adventures will draw residents.
Jacksonville, also a coastal city, is not only touting sports, blues and country music, but invites the public to take advantage of fine medical and meeting facilities.

Co-Cities: Tampa and Jacksonville, FL
Primary URL: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/2014/best-places-homeownership/
By Christina Sturgis
Florida cities are very well represented on Nerd Wallet’s list of best metros for homeownership. Ocala and Naples are on the list of small metros; the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville area is on the li
medium-sized metros and Jacksonville is on the list of large metros.
Nerd Wallet’s criteria are a high rate of homeownership, a high median income and a low cost of living. The Sunshine State’s median income, $47,309 is lower than the U.S. median of $53,046, which usually helps it in state-to-state comparisons. The cost of living is lower, too. For example, Ocala and Tampa have an equal cost of living of 88 on a scale with 100 as the U.S. average. Tampa’s housing index is 60 and Ocala’s is 59 on that same scale.
It is not surprising that Florida cities pop up on the 30 city list divided into three tiers. Florida’s homeownership rate is 68.1 percent, a bit higher than the 65.5 percent for the nation as a whole. Naples (79.4 percent) and Palm Bay (75.2 percent) and Titusville (68.3 percent) all exceed the U.S. rate. Tampa (51.7 percent), Ocala (51.9 percent) and Melbourne (62.3 percent.) are below the national average.
Nerd Wallet theorizes that a high rate of homeownership means there is an inventory of homes for sale and more opportunity to become a homeowner than in a more competitive market. Tampa’s coastal location may present a more desirable quality of life that makes homeownership a more competitive endeavor. That doesn’t mean central Florida doesn’t emphasize its assets; Ocala, for example, has a more inland location, but is betting the stables of the horse racing industry and myriad outdoor adventures will draw residents.
Jacksonville, also a coastal city, is not only touting sports, blues and country music, but invites the public to take advantage of fine medical and meeting facilities.

Preparing for greatness

Today I overslept because I kicked my clock radio off the table and it no longer works. I tried using my cell phone alarm instead, but had it charging and didn’t hear it. Blasted off in the spaceship with no coffee or food.  Just scarfed down a tube of potato chips and am following up with chocolate fudge poptarts. This is what you buy when you are really hungry.

He ain’t heavy

He ain’t heavy

Benny and Lincoln decided today would be the day they mocked Melvin, who is severely disabled and does not speak, except for some vocalizing. Benny and Lincoln giggled and repeated his utterances in a tone that was disrespectful. Melvin, who is big and strong and roughly as big as two of Lincoln and three of Benny, shifted about in his chair as though he understand he was being picked on. But he withstood the insult gracefully and did not lash out.

I wish Benny and Lincoln could take a brotherly interest in shielding Melvin from the cruelty of the world. Perhaps they feel Melvin’s very presence stigmatizes them. Yet, he could use a friend and they could be friend and thereby weave their own sorry behinds into the social fabric in a more meaningful way. Perhaps that is a lot to expect from teenagers.