Amy Kazahaya stood next to a cart full of the mums she grows and sells, while behind her stretched out the green fields of the nearly 70-acre Stafford Farm she owns with her husband Ken.
"I think this is the time that somebody else can enjoy the place," Amy told 70and73.com in an interview on Saturday, as cars of potential buyers pulled onto the farm's drive from White Horse Road in Voorhees. "Our focus has shifted," Ken said.
An auction on October 1 — minimum bid $900,000 — is expected to find new owners for this historic farmstead that's preserved forever for agricultural uses. Its provenance is distinguished, dating back to 1773 when Gen. George Washington gave the land to his personal guard, Lt. John Stafford.
Stafford Farm has been sold only twice. The land was owned by the Stafford family for 231 years until 2004, when the family sought to sell the full 140 acres to Voorhees Township, the state and a nonprofit for $20.6 million so that the property would remain protected from commercial development. The second sale was a year later, when 69.81 acres of the farm were sold to the Kazahayas. Voorhees maintains half of the total acreage as preserved open space on the north and east sides of the farm.
For the couple, each of their stories behind ownership of the farm is special.
Amy, 49, grew up as Amy Cuthbertson in Voorhees, graduating from Eastern Regional High School about a half-mile away from the farm. She was in school with the daughter of one of the Stafford brothers, who raised Standardbred horses on the property. A horse track remains today. Amy recalled that years ago her brother worked at ShopRite, across Evesham Road from the farm, and he would be enlisted when the store got a call from the farm to pick up plastic bags that had blown onto the property.
Ken, 53, a physician specializing in pediatric ENT at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in the city and in the Voorhees office, came to the United States from Japan at four months old and grew up with his family in Bucks County. The couple then lived in Voorhees and his work took him by the farm all the time. Ken said he often thought: "One of these days I'd love to own a property like that." When he saw the state putting it up for auction 15 years ago, he said "I'll try it."
Their winning bid, $1,060,000, got them Stafford Farm in 2005 and they've been working the land ever since.
Plans to build a home on the property and move there got sidetracked, although those plans were drawn up and approved by the state, Amy said. The old, disused brick farmhouse could be demolished, under the rules. A new owner has a six-acre building "envelope" around where the house and barn now stand to build a new home, with a maximum of 3,500 square feet of heated space, Amy explained.
What could new owners do with the farm?
Auctioneer Max Spann, whose company is selling the farm and has sold an estimated 18,000 acres of preserved farmland, suggested a farm stand. Several of the preserved farms he has sold added farm stands and raise some of the produce on site. The Stafford Farm sales brochure shows a farm stand concept at the busy intersection of Evesham/White Horse/Springdale roads across from ShopRite.
On Saturday, Amy had several ideas. She and Ken had raised mums, harvested hay and grown Christmas trees on the site. Two competing bidders when they bought the farm had a winery and vineyard in mind, she said. Another possibility is a micro-brewery growing its own hops and other ingredients. And there's also the chance of a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, growing organic produce, she added. Or, it could be turned into a horse farm again. The horse track still is intact.
Fertilizers or pesticides have not been used on the farm at least from the time the couple bought the property, Ken said. The earth is sandy loam, with three to four feet of topsoil, he added.