The soil of the Pine Barrens is considered infertile when compared to soils to the west and north. Pine Barrens upland soil is sandy, sometimes gravelly, porous, acidic and does not retain enough moisture for most crops. Only in fringe areas, sometimes called the “shatterbelt” of the Pine Barrens, is the soil naturally suitable for traditional farming, enabling commercial vegetable, grain and fruit farms to develop and thrive.
Cranberry and blueberry farming is different, because these are native plantsadapted to the conditions of the Pine Barrens. The commercial cultivation and harvesting of cranberries and blueberries has long thrived in the Pine Barrens and is an important part of the region’s past and present culture. The cranberry is a native North American plant that grows wild in low fields, meadows, bogs and along streams. Native Americans used the cranberry as food and for medicinal purposes. Gathered for food by the early European settlers, cranberries were first cultivated in Massachusetts around 1820 and in New Jersey sometime between 1825-1840.
Cranberries are commercially grown in man-made bogs, and are mostly harvested using the wet-harvesting method that was started in New Jersey in the 1960s. Before the advent of the wet-harvesting method cranberries were picked by hand. After 1925 they were picked using large wooden scoops.With the wet-harvesting method, the bogs are flooded and, being buoyant, the vines and ripe berries lift off the bed of the bogs.Workers then move around the flooded bogs with “beaters”, mechanical cranberry machines designed to free cranberries from their vines. After being stripped from their vines by the “beaters” the cranberries float to the top of the water where they are guided onto loading conveyors, dropped into large crates on truck beds and driven to the processing plant.
Wild blueberries were also an important food for the Native Americans and early Europeans. In 1910 Elizabeth White began work with Dr. Fredrick Coville in an attempt to develop the first cultivated blueberry. Elizabeth White was the daughter of Joseph ( J.J.) White, the owner of a cranberry farm near Browns Mill called Whitesbog. She and Dr. Colville successfully cultivated the first blueberry in 1916.Originally, blueberries were picked by hand and many still are, but the more modern method is to use a mechanical blueberry picker that straddles the rows and shakes the blueberry from the bush.
Especially in the early days, many people in the Pines used a system they called “knocking”. “Knocking” was accomplished by strategically placing a basket under the bush and hitting the trunk with a one-foot club or rubber hose, resulting in most of the blueberries falling into the basket.
Row crops have been among the most important economic activities in much of the western Pinelands region, from Gloucester County north to Wrightstown, and occuring to a lesser degree elsewhere. Throughout the years, crops have been produced for both market and local distribution. Crops include asparagus, beans, corn, eggplant, peppers, squash, soybeans, and tomatoes.
Forestry may have some positive ecological impacts, such as creating openings in the forest, if it is conducted in a manner that ensures native forest communities are permitted to regrow after trees are cut and removed. The impacts of forestry on Pine Barrens habitats has received little scientific study, but it is important to remember that the Pine Barrens we have today is the result of a forest that was repeatedly cut and permitted to regrow since the early days of European colonization.
Pinelands Agricultural Zoning:
The Pinelands National Reserve includes two areas that are specifically designated for agricultural purposes:
Agricultural Production Area – 68,500 acres. These are areas of active agricultural use, generally upland field agriculture and row crops, including adjacent areas with soils suitable for expansion of agricultural operations. Farm-related housing on 10 acres and non-farm housing on 40 acres are allowed. Permitted non-residential uses are agricultural commercial and roadside retail within 300 feet of preexisting commercial uses.
Special Agricultural Production Area – 40,300 acres. These are areas primarily used for berry agriculture and horticulture of native Pinelands plants. Only residential farm-related housing on 40 acres, and expansion of existing non-residential uses permitted.
See the Comprehensive Management Plan map for more detail on the locations of these Areas.