A way of life: Manalapan farmer preserves his land

Last year, Paul Reese was “70 percent sure” he was leaving the township.

“I actually looked down in Virginia and Maryland” and other locales with large tracts of land, the 53-year-old Manalapan farmer said. “I’ve been on a farm my whole life. I can’t live right next door to neighbors, no way. I just love land too much.”

His love of the land inspired him to take steps to hold onto his 23 acres on Sweetmans Lane, he said, and the township, the county and the state are partnering to support him in preserving the tract.

Through the state Department of Agriculture’s Planning Incentive Grant, the county, the state and the township have agreed to pay a percentage of the property’s value to deed-restrict it as farmland. The state has committed to paying 60 percent of the land’s roughly $1 million value, with the county paying 24 percent, or $182,160 and the township paying 16 percent plus $10,480 an acre, or $362,480.

Don Holland, chairman of the Municipal Agricultural Committee and the Planning Board, said the farm is among nine that have been preserved in the township, in a state that has a rich farming history.

“We want to acquire any farm,” Holland said. “There’s not that many left in Manalapan.”

Reese, who has lived on the farm nearly three decades, said he’d likely get a better deal from developers who’ve been interested in the property through the years, but saving the land was more important to him.

“There was no development here, no development there,” Reese said on his property last week, motioning to housing developments that have cropped up all around his farm. “(To the west) was all woodlands. There was a horse farm (to the south). It’s kind of sad to see the changes.”

He and his family — which includes wife, Janis, 49, daughter, Desiree, 17, and sons Elisha, 24, and Luke, 22 — raise a small number of cattle, chickens and pigs and grow watermelon, corn and hay that they eat themselves or sell from the farm.

Through the years, he has raised foot-tall plantings into 50 spruce trees more than 12 feet tall that line his driveway. The farm also is home to a stray cat, a goat and a retired racing thoroughbred named Beeps.

“I’m feeding the chickens, the sparrows,” said Reese, a former horse trainer. “I’m worried about the salamanders in the logs in the back if they started building houses. You start thinking, “What am I, going crazy?’ I’m turning down money from a builder because I’m worried about frogs.

“But living here for 27 years, you just get used to everything about a farm,” Reese said. “Being here 27 years, you start getting attached to everything.”

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