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NJ Will Allow Special Occasion Events on Protected Farmland

by Kimberly Redmond, NJ Biz

This story is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. Link to story:

A new law will allow certain commercial farms located on preserved farmland in New Jersey to hold special events, such as weddings, concerts and social gatherings—a move that supporters say will be a boost for local farmers as well as the state’s agritourism industry.

Under the bipartisan measure signed into effect February 3 by Gov. Phil Murphy, farms that produce agricultural or horticultural products worth $10,000 or more annually can now seek permission from the state to host festivities, subject to certain conditions.

Sponsors of the legislation include state Sens. Paul Sarlo, D-36th District, and Steven Oroho, R-24th District, and Assemblymembers Roy Freiman, D-16th District, and Raj Mukherji, D-33rd District. Assemblyman Ron Dancer, R-12th District, who died in July 2022 at the age of 73, also served as a primary sponsor.

As part of the law, counties and municipalities that hold development rights on preserved farmland are required to develop an application process by which people can apply to host special events, review applications received and forward relevant information to the State Agricultural Development Committee.

According to the bill, the number of events that can be held will be determined by the farm’s economic output.

Commercial farms producing products between $10,000 and $100,000 annually can hold a maximum of 15 events per year, two of which that can have 250 guests or more in attendance. Meanwhile, commercial farms producing products worth $100,000 or more may host up to 26 events per year, of which six can have 250 guests or more in attendance.

All state and local laws regarding food safety, litter, noise, solid waste, traffic and public safety apply to the events.

Farms that violate the regulations face a penalty of up to $2,500 for the first offense, up to $10,000 for the second offense, and up to $25,000 for a third and subsequent offense. Those who repeatedly break the rules could be barred from holding special occasion events for a period of time that increases along with the number of violations.

SADC will also be required to submit an annual report to the administration and state Legislature that includes the:

  • number of events held that year
  • number of site inspections conducted
  • amount of penalties collected
  • descriptions of any problems associated with holding special occasion events that have been reported in communities

“As the Garden State, agriculture is quintessential to New Jersey’s identity and agritourism is the next frontier to maintaining this heritage,” Murphy said in a statement. “This law will open new revenue streams for those who work tirelessly to maintain the preserved farmland that is core to our state’s cultural fabric. I am especially proud to sign this bill in honor of the late Assemblyman Ron Dancer, whose legacy of advocacy for our state’s agricultural and tourism industries is found writ-large in this new law.”

A growing industry: Murphy noted the legislation concurred with his conditional veto of an earlier version of the bill and took into account recommendations to ensure protections for agricultural or horticultural production on preserved farmland.

Since New Jersey’s farmland preservation program was founded in 1983, more than 240,000 acres spread across 2,600 farms have been protected with the right to use and develop the land for non-agricultural purposes permanently prohibited.

In a joint statement, Freiman and Mukherji said, “Agritourism is a growing industry and, by allowing our farmers to participate, we make it possible for them to expand their businesses, grow the economy and showcase that which makes New Jersey’s agricultural community special. Further, it provides access to farms and farmland, allowing all to enjoy the beauty of nature, and gives insight into the challenges and rewards farmers encounter in growing the food we consume.”

“By finding a balance between protecting preserved farmland and giving farmers in the Garden State the ability to host events, we can introduce new streams of income to the farming industry without compromising agricultural production,” they said.

Oroho said, “Our heritage as the ‘Garden State’ goes back hundreds of years, and our farming tradition is still thriving in many families and communities throughout the state. In addition to growing fruits, vegetables, and grains, our farms can also be used for wedding ceremonies and many other special events. This bill, now law, will provide an economic benefit to farmers, preserve important farmland, and showcase New Jersey’s rich agricultural legacy.”

Allen Carter, president of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, thanked the Murphy administration and state Legislature for their work to “help set reasonable rules for hosting events on preserved farmland” and said the law will “allow preserved farm owners an additional economic opportunity to help sustain their farm viability into the future.”