Freedom Dies In My Hometown

I grew up in New Jersey in a bedroom community called Piscataway. It wasn’t (and isn’t) all that much different from any other Central New Jersey town, except, perhaps, for the fact, that it was one of the only towns north of Princeton that had an actual working farm. Cornell Farms was a little dairy farm that operated on one of the few undeveloped areas of the part of town where my family lived. I still remember passing by it every day on the school bus that I had to take when I started high school. Little did I know at the time that the powers-that-be were doing whatever they could to take Cornell Farms away from the family that owned it.

Matt Labash puts it this way in The Weekly Standard:

Piscataway (an Indian term meaning “it is getting dark”) was once a charming farm community. But like so much of America, it is now a charmless depot off the Turnpike, a 19-square-mile blur of box stores, strip malls, and high-density housing. In the middle of this, sprawled over 75 acres, sits the Halper farm, one of the last agricultural tracts in Piscataway.

The farm has been in the family since 1922 and until the city officially took ownership, in 2004, was co-owned by numerous Halper aunts and cousins, most of whom live elsewhere. Mark Halper still ran a mulch business on the land, and his cousin Gary oversaw a horse farm on another corner, making ends meet by giving pony rides to children. But Larry Halper (Mark’s twin brother) and his wife Clara still worked and lived on the land, though they owned only a one-twelfth interest in the total family acreage. Even though everyone was getting bounced, it was their plight and property that attracted Clements.

The township has made feints at taking the Halper property for decades. In 1975, it actually did force the Halpers to sell 25 acres, which Piscataway added to an adjoining park. But the current festivities got underway in earnest in 1998. Around that time, the city purportedly grew nervous that some of its last privately owned green space might fall into the hands of ghastly developers, the kind that are regularly found in bed with the local politicians, making New Jersey a notorious “pay to play” state. Take a ride around the perimeter of the Halper farm, and such concerns don’t seem to have plagued city planner consciences in the past, what with all the quaint mom ‘n’ pop operations like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Hollywood Tans that blanket the town like bad wall-to-wall carpeting.

From the look of things, plenty of people are making hefty profits selling Piscataway real estate off to the highest bidder. But to the city’s thinking, the Halpers shouldn’t be among them. They only worked the farm for nearly a century, why should they make money off it? Never mind that they’d received unsolicited offers for their land for decades and managed not to sell. Piscataway officials were coming after their property anyway, vowing to maintain it as “open space.” An incredulous Clements sks what could be “more ‘open space’ than a farm?”

I’m not sure whether it’s because this is my hometown we’re talking about here, but this latest example of Kelo inspired insanity gone wild has me particularly enraged. It was an open secret in town that the Halper farm was a target of the powers-that-be for some time.

How dare they operate a farm and offer horse riding lessons in the middile of our nice, peaceful NIMBY/preppie/DINK community !

How dare they provide some fun for kids !

I’ve seen alot of changes to my hometown since I moved to Virginia sixteen years ago. Many (most) of them have been improvements. But when I drive past what used to be Cornell Dairy Farm in the future, and see a Super Target (or whatever it might be) that ended up there only because the City Council decided to steal land from the Halper family, I can only mourn the fact that liberty means nothing in one town in Central New Jersey.