Comedian and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart is seeking approval to open a farm sanctuary in Colts Neck. Stewart’s JTS Land Trust recently signed a contract to purchase the historic Hockhockson Farm with plans to build an educational center that would be open to the public.

The first step of the approval process was to obtain a commercial farm certification under the state's Right to Farm Act, which the Monmouth Agriculture Board granted earlier this month. The Board will consider Stewart’s concept for the farm next month.

By obtaining a commercial farm certification, the JTS Land Trust will have more freedom to operate without running afoul of local land use ordinances. The New Jersey Right to Farm Act protects commercial farmers from public and private nuisance actions as well as unduly restrictive municipal regulations.

Eligibility Criteria Under the Right to Farm Act

To be eligible for protection under the statute, a farm must qualify as a commercial farm.

An operation larger than five acres must annually engage in agricultural or horticultural production worth at least $2,500 and be eligible for differential property taxation under Farmland Assessment. For farms smaller than five acres, the annual production requirement is a minimum of $50,000 and the farm must satisfy eligibility requirements for farmland assessment, other than the farm-size requirement. A commercial farm may comprise multiple parcels, whether contiguous or non-contiguous, provided they are operated together as a single enterprise.

Pre-requisites of a Commercial Farm

In addition, a New Jersey farm seeking commercial certification must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • The farm must be located in an area in which agriculture is a permitted use under the municipal zoning ordinance and is consistent with the municipal master plan. If the commercial farm was in operation as of July 2, 1998, this zoning ordinance/master plan requirement does not apply. 
  • The farmer must conduct the operation in compliance with generally accepted agricultural practices.
  • The operation must be in compliance with relevant state and federal statutes and rules.
  • The operation must not pose a direct threat to public health and safety.

Protected Activities under the Right to Farm Act

Once a farm satisfies the eligibility criteria, it may be granted certain protections under the Right to Farm Act for the following activities:

  • Production of agricultural and horticultural crops
  • Processing and packaging of the farm’s agricultural output
  • Operation of a farm market, including the construction of building and parking areas in conformance with municipal standards
  • Replenishment of soil nutrients and clearing of woodlands
  • Control of pests, predators, and diseases of plants and animals
  • Conduct of on-site disposal of organic agricultural wastes
  • Conduct of agriculture-related educational and farm-based recreational activities provided that the activities are related to marketing the agricultural or horticultural output of the commercial farm
  • Engaging in solar, wind, and biomass energy generation, in compliance with adopted rules
  • Engaging in any other agricultural activity as determined by the State Agricultural Development Committee (SADC) and adopted through the rulemaking process

Resolving Disputes with Neighbors and Municipalities

The Right to Farm Act also contains dispute resolution mechanisms. An individual or municipality aggrieved by the operation of a commercial farm must file a complaint with the County Agriculture Development Board (CADB) prior to filing an action in court. CADB decisions may be appealed to SADC and then to the New Jersey Superior Court.