Two centuries ago, Hunterdon provided General Washington’s armies with food, clothing and other supplies, and after the Revolution, it continued to deliver the bounty from its dairy farms and orchards to consumers in New York and Philadelphia. There are still hundreds of working farms remaining, and it is still common to find yourself on some county highway behind a tractor pulling a load of hay or corn. But agriculture in the county has changed dramatically in the last 30 years, and most of the news today is about local efforts to preserve farmland and open space. The state’s Farmland Assessment program offers reduced taxes on acreage that generates agricultural income, and local municipalities regularly levy small surcharges on tax bills to raise money for open space preservation. The goal is to preserve a total of 50,000 acres of farmland by the year 2010. A strong agricultural tradition persists in the many farmers’ markets, fruit and vegetable stands, vineyards, pick-your-own fruit and pumpkin farms, agri-tourism, and petting farms, including one that raises buffalo (but not for petting). The many cut-your-own-Christmas tree farms and the hillsides aflame with fall foliage draw tourists year-round and contribute to the county’s sound economy.
In recent years, Hunterdon County residents, like other residents in New Jersey, have become increasingly committed to preserving farmland from development. Residents in a dozen municipalities have approved tax surcharges to fund the purchase of open space and farmland, realizing that once the land is lost to development, it cannot be replaced.
Almost 50 farms in the county, representing approximately 6,500 acres, have restricted deeds through the state’s Farmland Preservation program. Interested farmers apply to the program. If accepted, they’re paid a sum of money and agree in return that they, and future generations, will only use the land for farming. The state program is supplemented by both county and municipal funds.