Farmland Can Be Economically Viable, Says Speaker for FOPOS Meeting
By Anne Levin
Not so many decades ago, the town of Princeton was surrounded by farmland. While much of that rural acreage is now home to housing developments and office parks, some open space still remains. And Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS) wants to keep it that way.
At the organization’s annual meeting on Sunday, April 15, Mark Brownlee of ArcheWild will address the topic with “Investing in our Land: Deriving Real Economic Value for Ourselves and our Community.” Brownlee, principal and head ecologist of the ecological restoration company and native plant nursery, will outline the options for maintaining the parcels that remain, while possibly realizing some financial benefit.
“Active land management is rapidly becoming the norm because it pays dividends,” he said. “There are options.”
As the global food market has evolved over time, Brownlee explained, it has left fairly sizable tracts of land in an under-managed state. He used the
Princeton area as an example. “Where it used to be 100 percent farming, that has changed dramatically. Because you can no longer afford to grow commodity crops,” he said. “So the question is, what do you do with this land, whether it is 10 acres or 200 acres? You can’t participate in the global food market with parcels that small.”
Depending on size, options for participating in new markets can include native seed production for smaller farms; or agroforestry — agriculture incorporating the cultivation and conservation of trees — for larger ones. “You can grow black locusts for fence posts,” said Brownlee. “Or live stakes, which are shrubs that can grow tall, be cut, and sold — and are self-renewing. That can produce an ongoing revenue stream.”
For areas of 80 acres or more, there are opportunities that fall under the heading of conservation agriculture, “where you invest in building soils to produce specialty crops,” Brownlee said. “There are many farms starting up, and details are being worked out.”
Brownlee founded ArcheWild four decades ago with a goal of restoring healthy productivity to farms and forests. Key clients of the company include The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Service, New York City parks, and landowners and operators across the Northeast.
Founded in 1969, the nonprofit FOPOS is located in the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Preserve and is dedicated to acquiring open space in Princeton for preservation, protecting natural resources, maintaining trails, and encouraging environmental education.The organization has 75 acres that are located in the center of 400 acres of protected public land including two lakes, rocky creeks, wooded wetlands, and forests.
The meeting will be held at 3 p.m. at Mountain Lakes House in the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve, 57 Mountain Avenue. Trustees will be elected and FOPOS Natural Resources Manager Jeff Geist will lead a trail walk, followed by refreshments. But Brownlee’s talk is the focus of the gathering.
“The real opportunity is to create new farms depending on size and how much money you have,” he said. “So you can be a small farmer, and maybe not make money, but you can make the land economically productive. The point is that there are solutions for growing commodity crops.”
Admission is free and all are welcome. RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (609) 921-2772.