Preserving farmland: a tale of two farms


11-01-2003

By JOE COLANERO

“We recently invited schoolchildren out to our farm. One little boy in a wheelchair held a duck in his arms for the first time. That experience won’t happen anymore if we don’t receive approval from the Preservation Trust Fund to save this farm,” said Theresa Tompkins, currently owner with her husband John, of Golden Eagle Farm in Atco, Camden County.
Embroiled in a debate in an application process that has been all but denied by the Camden County Open Space Committee, whose approval is needed for further consideration, the Tompkins may not be able, without preservation funds, to meet their obligations with the mortgage holder, the previous owner.
The 78-acre farm is in an area zoned rural residential. Income is derived from boarding horses and selling hay. The problem is, there isn’t enough income to meet the mortgage payments on their $225,000 loan. Their former business, a limousine service, was severely impacted by Sept. 11 and is now out of service. John, 65, now collects Social Security. A balloon payment is due in December.
In the meantime, the Tompkins have been pulling out all of the stops to enlist the support of various officials from federal to state and county levels. The response has been generally stated that, while they are concerned about the possible loss of a farm and home site, all understand that the Farmland Preservation Trust was never intended as a means of bailing out someone with a threat of a mortgage foreclosure.
“It may very well be that the funds granted under the trust might be used to save a farm or upgrade capital equipment to make a farm more viable, but that isn’t the purpose of the trust. It’s to preserve farms for farm use and open space and to sidestep development in our densely populated state,” said Ralph Siegel, spokesperson for the New Jersey State Agricultural Development Committee.
Stafford Farm preserved
Elsewhere in Camden County, another horse farm is being preserved. A formal press conference was held Oct. 17 to announce the joint effort of many organizations to preserve the 141-acre Stafford Farm in Voorhees Township.
Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell and Secretary of Agriculture Charles Kuperus told attendees how great a day it was for the residents of Voorhees Township to seal forever the future of the Stafford Farm that has been in existence since Revolutionary War times.
“Every effort must be made to prevent development from consuming properties like Stafford Farm that are the last significant parcel of open space in a densely developed area,” said Campbell.
Kuperus said, “The partnership to preserve Stafford Farm is a model for cooperative preservation efforts. As a result, this beautiful horse farm will forever remain open and productive, and an asset to this community and our agricultural industry for generations to come.”
The farm has been in the Stafford family for more than 225 years and is still a viable operation. Currently co-owned by brothers Pete, Randall III, Alvin, Arthur, Benjamin and David, the farm sits smack in a heavily suburbanized area, having a Super G supermarket for a neighbor and surrounded by the never-ending roar of road traffic.
Stafford wasn’t always a horse farm, but that’s how it worked out. Horses were used in transporting and raising crops, but a series of events turned it into a training farm that breeds, raises and trains horses for harness racing.
The owners’ grandfather, Randall Safford Sr., with lineage tracing back to the original brothers who came from England and received a grant from King George, took an interest in race horses. That led to purchase of Standardbred horses and eventually his grandsons to drive harness racing carts. Since the early ’60s, horses have become the family’s main business. About 35 horses are in training, with more used in riding and breeding.
All this daily training will continue uninterrupted, now that funding has been secured to preserve the farm. Actually, the farm is split into a 70-acre horse farm and 70 acres of woodlands that will be minimally altered to improve a convenience path between township schools.
Siegel, spokesperson for the State Agricultural Development Committee, said multiple funding from multiple entities has been used to pull this preservation package together. The woodland portion of the farm, which will be considered a municipal park, has been funded by the Green Acres Trust of Voorhees Township and the non-profit Trust for Public Lands, which were instrumental in initiating the whole preservation parcel.
The Stafford Farm’s centuries-old use as an agrarian farm, thanks to the preservation, will now constitute 5 percent of Voorhees Township’s open space in perpetuity.