In 2019, Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) received an extraordinary donation of 72-acres of farmland adjacent to its headquarters from Cindy Yingling, Louis Eni, and Chris Eni. PPA set up Rancocas Creek Farm to transform the soy farm into a model of sustainably managed land that includes habitat, green stormwater infrastructure, and organic, regenerative farming. This project will simultaneously solve severe stormwater runoff into Vincentown Village and Rancocas Creek; heal damaged soils that do not infiltrate and treat stormwater as they should; create habitat for pollinators and grassland birds, among other wildlife; and launch an economically productive organic farm to maintain the project over time and attract visitors to learn how sustainable land management can protect natural resources and provide healthy food.
PPA has long been located at the Bishop Farmstead, a 12-acre parcel that was once the homestead of a large farm founded in 1703 and broken up in 1960. The 72 acres surrounding our headquarters has been conventionally farmed in soy for at least the last 30 years, and it is a serious source of soil erosion and stormwater that floods Vincentown Village and degrades Rancocas Creek. In July 2019, the prior owners donated the land to PPA, thereby reuniting land that was farmed by Quaker settlers starting in 1704 as part of the Bishop Farmstead. PPA created Rancocas Creek Farm and hired an experienced farmer, Jeff Tober, to be the farm manager. We aim to repair the land and soil, solve the stormwater problem, and improve water quality through an integrated conversion to habitats, green stormwater treatment, and sustainable, regenerative farming.
Connected to our Mission
The creation of a sustainable organic farm is connected to our mission to protect the Pinelands. Agriculture is a big issue in the Pinelands as nearly 68,000 acres of land in the Pinelands is used for farming (not counting cranberry farming). Conventional agriculture can have a negative impact on soil health, water quality, flooding, and the climate.
The Rancocas Creek Farm project will enhance our work by improving soil health and native biodiversity and reducing stormwater runoff into the Rancocas Creek. Read about our recent efforts to manage runoff here. The farm will serve as a demonstration that land can be managed in ways to improve the environment and support a sustainable farm business.
The farm will expose more people to the work we do to protect the Pinelands. Through its products and education and outreach programs, the farm will broaden the range of people we meet. We hope to form new alliances with individuals, organizations, and public officials that make us more effective in advancing policies that protect the Pinelands and all its unique resources.
Goal and Vision for Rancocas Creek Farm
We have identified the following goals for the Rancocas Creek Farm:
- Retain, reuse, and manage stormwater through natural systems: The methods to achieve this objective are planting grassland meadow, tree and shrub buffers, and cover-crop pasture in approach zones of the farm. These plants will immediately improve water retention and treatment on-site. Over time they will improve soil structure leading to better infiltration and retention of water.
- Institute regenerative farming practices: The methods to achieve this goal are to maximize soil fertility and complexity through organic and regenerative farm practices, including biologically integrated farming systems and permaculture, and to retain, cleanse and reuse stormwater as described above.
- Regenerate the soil: We will regenerate the damaged soils through the planting described above, organic farming methods, and some use of livestock in rotational grazing. By implementing regenerative soil management practices, soil on-site will develop greater fertility, improve water infiltration, and increase carbon sequestration.
- Create and manage habitats: Where active food production is not occurring on the property, we will create and manage native early successional habitats. These habitats will complement the existing eight-acre meadow on the farmstead property, will improve water capture and treatment, and will attract a diverse suite of native plant and animal species to the property.
- Promote agricultural and native biodiversity: Our goal is to plant a diversity of native species and crops in each management zone of the property as appropriate. Also, we will not use pesticides or herbicides anywhere on the property. Maintaining a diversity of plants in the non-cultivated zones will improve pollination services and reduce pest insects on the agricultural portion of the property.
- Produce exceptional quality, organic vegetables and fruits: The farm will produce vegetables and fruits using entirely organic methods, that is, no inorganic chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The mix of species grown will be based on the Farm Manager’s extensive experience in this region, what we learn about the soils on this property, and the demand for food. The farm will also create demonstration gardens to show people how to create rain gardens and landscape with native plants.
- Train apprentices and interns: The farm will hire and train apprentices and interns in farming and nature education in order to serve our community, provide labor for the operation of the farm, and forge new partnerships with communities and organizations around our sustainable land management and human health goals.
- Carry out natural resource conservation and public health advocacy and education programs: Foods grown through regenerative methods are healthier and safer than processed and industrially produced foods. As part of PPA’s efforts to position the Pinelands as a health resource for people, the farm will educate families and individuals on how to grow, prepare, and preserve their own food, as well as supporting local food security efforts. Through its connection to the ecosystem, the farm will serve as a gateway for the community to learn about agroecology, gardening, and ecology.
Meet the Farm Manager
Jeff Tober was hired as Farm Manager in January 2020. Prior to joining the PPA staff, Jeff started a CSA farm (Community Supported Agriculture) at Fernbrook Farms in Chesterfield in 2007 and was the Farm Manager for 13 years. Jeff got his love for growing food at Aspen Farms Community Garden in West Philadelphia and later apprenticed at Brookfield Farm CSA in Amherst, MA. Jeff got his degree in English (not Agriculture) from Muhlenberg College and later served for 2 years with AmeriCorps and went on to work for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Green Program revitalizing urban parks before farming full-time. Jeff is on the board of the New Jersey Agricultural Society and the Burlington County Agricultural Development Board. Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.