David Sheppard, owner of Jersey Legacy Farms—an organic farming operation in southern New Jersey—is preparing for the busy season ahead.
“We’re right in the middle of converting from sprinklers to drip irrigation,” says Sheppard. “Drip irrigation uses two-thirds less water than the traditional methods that my people used for centuries. The reduction in water waste is huge.”
Sheppard comes from a very long line of farmers—14 generations of Sheppard men have made their living farming in southern New Jersey. This deep-rooted connection to land and family inspired David to attend college and earn a degree in agronomy.
“I went to college to study the science of farming to improve our family business,” says Sheppard. “Then I began to think that the pesticides and fertilizers we were using couldn’t possibly be good for our soil—or water supply.”
In 2006, David left Sheppard Farms, the family-owned farm label started by his great-grandfather and run today by David’s two brothers. “I wanted to start fresh and focus my energy on creating an all-organic farming operation.”
In 2009, Sheppard teamed up with The Nature Conservancy, which owns and manages several nature preserves near lands the Sheppards have farmed for generations. In exchange for an organic-farming lease at the Gandy’s Beach Preserve, Sheppard completes restoration projects like invasive species removal, helping achieve dual missions.
“At Gandy’s Beach, David has reclaimed fallow farm fields that had been completely overrun with invasive plants,” says Les Frie, the Conservancy’s stewardship manager in New Jersey. “These invasives were threatening Gandy’s surrounding forests, which provide important habitat for wildlife like migrating birds.”
Today, the Conservancy and David work together on conservation projects at Jersey Legacy, including the conversion to drip irrigation. “When less than one percent of the water on our planet is available freshwater,” says Bob Allen, director of conservation programs, “water conservation projects like these are critical to conserving resources we need to survive.”
In New Jersey, The Nature Conservancy works with area farmers like David through the Private Lands Program. The program engages private landowners to help develop conservation projects that focus on protecting freshwater and improving forest health.
The Private Lands Program allows landowners to work with Conservancy staff to implement sustainable practices on their lands, as well as connecting them with state grant programs and monetary incentives for related conservation projects.
The Nature Conservancy works to balance the needs of people and nature – ensuring that the lands and waters upon which we all depend are protected for future generations.
“We’ve really expanded our impact by working with area landowners,” says Frie, “well beyond what could be achieved through working on Conservancy lands alone.”
Jersey Legacy Farms is one of the largest and most successful organic farms in south Jersey, supplying produce to retailers like Whole Foods Market. For David, going organic was a no-brainer: “The economic benefits of an organic label coupled with the many environmental benefits made for an easy decision.”
Today, as David readies his farm for the busy season ahead, he has a new partner in conservation: his daughter Michele. “My daughter wants to learn the family business, and with any luck someday my grandson will too,” he says. “It gives me a certain sense of satisfaction knowing that the changes I’m making today will create a sustainable future for the next generation of Sheppard farmers.”May 01, 2012
Khara McKeen is the communications coordinator for The Nature Conservancy in New Jersey