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Putting Central New Jersey on the Map as an Agritourism Destination

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted March 31, 2023

Originally, elected officials fought to preserve farmland in Central New Jersey to “ward off the strip malls and the big box stores.”

“Today, the biggest threat to our land is coming from the mega warehouses,” Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D) of Hillsborough told a group of local farmers, brew masters, vintners, and marketing folks who assembled at an agritourism conference on March 6.

A barn on Canal Road in Griggstown. By Barbara A. Preston.

Brad Fay of Griggstown, a former Montgomery Township Committee member, is one of the movers and shakers behind an agritourism initiative that would put Central New Jersey on the map of places to visit. He heads up Discover Central New Jersey, a collaborative initiative of local farmers, restaurateurs, beverage makers, and business people in the counties of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset.

Fay also sponsored the 2023 Central New Jersey Agritourism Conference at the Chauncey Conference Center in Princeton.

“We’ve made real progress, including our first grant from the NJ Tourism Division, and several legislative initiatives to increase spending on agritourism statewide,” Fay says.

Brad Fay, a former Montgomery Township Committeeman, feeding a calf at Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville.

Senator Andrew Zwicker (D) of Kingston, a champion for the tourism initiative, was a keynote speaker at the conference.

“In other states, you go to visit a suburban downtown and there’s a restaurant, bar, winery, every 10 feet, and they are all full,” he told about 60 people gathered at the conference. “That is where we are headed.”

That, and Central New Jersey farms, vineyards, breweries, and distilleries will become even more of a destination than they already are.

Lavender Farm by artist Janet Cunniffe-Chieffo, Oil on Board, Hidden Spring Lavender & Alpaca Farm, in Skillman. The farm is a destination for weddings, birthday parties, showers, and other gatherings. It also has a gift shop, and children can pet the alpacas.

About 2,500 farms in the state have been preserved to date, according to Assemblyman Freiman.

Farmers of preserved land have to make a living. “We want to give farmers the ability to compete in the marketplace,” he said. “The best way to protect our land, by far, is to protect the people who work the land.”

“We do this by creating more demand for our own products, and through agritourism.”

Freiman and Zwicker are sponsors of a bipartisan bill recently signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy that will allow working farms with preserved land to hold events, such as concerts and weddings. In the past, farmers who accepted state funding to preserve their land were not allowed to hold events.

“The law should open new revenue streams for those who work tirelessly to maintain the preserved farmland that is core to our state’s cultural fabric,” Gov. Murphy said.

It also opens the gateway to agritourism events.

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Freiman and Zwicker are also sponsoring legislation that would recognize and promote Central New Jersey as one of three state tourism regions to help with marketing efforts. “The middle of the state is an area that is completely ignored by our state tourism map,” Zwicker said.

The bills (A-5098 and S-3206) require the NJ Division of Travel and Tourism to promote Central New Jersey, overnight stays, and agritourism.

A four-bill legislative package released in March provides for additional measures, such as: Creating a trail sign program to encourage more people to visit Central New Jersey’s attractions (A-5097); Requiring an annual report on NJ’s travel and tourism industry and its impact on the economy (A-5100); and establishing an “Agritourism Fund” to create grants for businesses involved in agritourism (A-5209).

“This is the Garden State,” Freiman said. “We need to understand what that means. We also are asking NJ schools to teach lessons on agriculture.”

Freiman supports opening new sources of revenue for the farming community. Agritourism is a no-brainer, he said.

“The center of our state offers a unique combination of historic, agricultural, artistic, and eco-tourism experiences,” he said. ■


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