The state preservation department defines New Jersey’s farmlands as the “foundation of a strong agricultural industry”. The description goes on to cite “productive fields” and “scenic landscapes of green” as driving factors for what makes New Jersey a desirable place to live. The public investment farmland preservation cannot be sustained or justified if farms are not profitable or bountiful as the state promises. However, profit and bounty are not always distributed equally. Not every tax paying contributing New Jerseyan is able to reap the benefits of how many farms make their money or distribute their bounty.
Many farms have shifted to Agritourism to drive revenue and garner support for farmer’s initiatives. Agritourism is colloquially defined as the business of inviting the public onto farms for recreational enjoyment and or education. This includes but is not limited to hunting, fishing, bird watching, self-picking produce and horticulture, seasonal events, and tours. These activities disproportionately benefit those in the immediate area of farmland or privileged with expendable time and income to travel and partake in these offerings. While the intentions and activities are wholesome and well intentioned, the use of these funds for private profit and localized amenities is not appropriate.
As it stands, a significant portion of farm income is from Agitourism. The Rutgers University report: The Economic Contributions of Agritourism in New Jersey analyzes a large sample size of farms and how their income is related to agritourism. As the report shows Agritourism is a large, and growing market for New Jersey farmers. The University conducted a large study consisting of surveying and interviewing 1,500 random farms of varying sizes and locations in New Jersey. The farms were compiled from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service database and asked about their relationship to the Agritoursim business. The survey found that approximately 1:5 farms offer some sort of Agritourism, roughly 2,200 farms total throughout the state. Of those that support agritourism activity the 70% of revenue came from sales, while the remaining 30% was a mixture of educational, entertainment, recreational, and accommodation activities amounting to a total of 57 million dollars in Agritourism revenue state wide.
The large growing market for Agritourism is concerning because it adds incentives for farmland preservation beyond its original mission of supporting a strong agricultural industry. Preserving lands to create an agritourism site rather than making a viable business based on crop production and land cultivation prioritizes the local benefits of open space and additional revenue from out of town tourism without the onus of production that reaches beyond the farm’s immediate area. Preservation that ends in agritourism is little more than an extension of nimbyism more concerned with maintaining the character of the state rather than its agricultural industry.