2008 Distinguished Service Award Recipients
William N. Brooks Jr.When Bill was a young boy he spent many summers on his grandfather Norman’s farm in Elmer, Salem County, New Jersey. It was while attending Pennsylvania State University during the plowing season, Bill had a revelation and figured that plowing is what he should be doing. So in 1965, with the guidance of his grandfather and cousin, Johnson Cooper, he eventually took ownership of the family’s 156 acre farm and began working the land that had been passed down through generations in his family since 1773. Farming is definitely in his bloodline and the determination to keep the tradition alive continues with Bill, wife Diane and now son Michael, as partners in Dusty Lane Farms, LLC, which has grown over the years into 1200 acres of vegetables and grain with over 600 acres of the farm secured in the Farmland Preservation Program.
During the early years, the family farm enjoyed a long history of potato production in New Jersey. Under Bill’s leadership, their farm engaged in innovative agricultural practices, cooperative agreements with area growers, acquiring new equipment as well as expanding and enhancing building facilities. Times have changed but growing potatoes continue to be one of their major crops, as they presently devote 205 acres for chips and fresh market. With an eye for sustaining his business and keeping it viable, Bill’s keen knowledge of the potato industry enabled him to seek out other outlets. So, he became involved in a new venture as a founding partner and a Director of Keystone Potato Products, LLC. It’s a Pennsylvania potato dehydration plant that’s expanding to produce refrigerated fresh cut French fries and other desirable potato products.
Bill’s decision to be a farmer garnered him a tongue lashing from one of his earliest admirers, Mrs. Wilson, his 8th grade teacher. She walked up to him one day wagging her finger and firmly told Bill, “If you just sit there on that farm, I will come out and give you a piece of my mind. You need to do more!” That incident was the impetus for Bill to confirm his thoughts and actions toward having a presence in planning board rooms and on township committees. Along with growing crops, Bill says farmers need to be informed about the issues affecting the agricultural industry and should get involved as leaders at Ag events and in their communities. So, every time he’s asked to serve in a leadership role, Bill sees that wagging finger as a reminder to get involved.
A long-time resident of Upper Pittsgrove, Bill stepped up to become: Mayor for three years in 1981, 1987 and 1988 an an Upper Pittsgrove Township Committeeman off and on from 1979 to the present – for nearly 15 years. Other past and present organizational endeavors include: Member of the Elmer Grange, Member of the Pole Tavern Ruritan Club, A Trustee of the Garden State Preservation Land Trust, Leadership roles on the New Jersey Potato Association and New Jersey White Potato Council, United States Potato Board, FFA Alumni Association, Woodstown Agricultural Education Advisory Committee, President, State Board of Agriculture, Director of New Jersey Agricultural Society and Director of Garden State Farm Credit. Bill is a long time member of New Jersey Farm Bureau and former member of its Board of Directors and the Salem County Board of Agriculture, as well as a former Board President. He’s currently a Trustee of New Jersey Agriculture Land Trust which was recently formed by New Jersey Farm Bureau and he’s a Director of the National Potato Council.
Bill’s hard work, leadership and adopted “get involved” spirit earned him a number of awards over the years: Salem County Board of Agriculture’s Distinguished Service to Agriculture; Honorary American FFA Degree; Arthur Jarman Distinguished Service – Woodstown FFA; New Jersey FFA Degree; New Jersey Board of Agriculture Outstanding Young Farmer; Salem County Soil Conservation District/Outstanding Conservation Award; and Future Farmers of America/American Farmer Degree.
There is no doubt that Bill Brooks has definitely planted some deep roots outside of Dusty Lane Farm and he continues to do so. However, Bill states, none of his outside pursuits could ever have been possible without the unyielding support and hard work on the farm exhibited by his partners: Diane, his wife of 33 years and son Michael. Bill and Diane have three children: Emily, Michael and Sarah and two grandchildren, Emma and Alexis.
Bill has a sense of joy in his heart because the foot prints he put down are now being followed by his son Michael who’s getting involved with some of the same organizations that no doubt will lead to progressive thinking for the farm community. Bill says having all of the children and grandchildren nearby lights up their lives while they focus on maintaining an interest in the preservation and protection of New Jersey farmland and its natural resources.