By Katrina Rossos
When JoAnn and Sean Burney first leased the Allaire Community Farm in Wall Township they were completely unaware of the fact that they were about to embark on a journey defined by one word: sanctuary. The Allaire Community Farm is a sanctuary for the farm animals who live there, the volunteers who care for them and the visitors who interact with them.
When the bubble burst on Sean’s commercial real estate business in Asbury Park, he decided he wanted to pursue a career he was passionate about, so he focused his sights on farming. The Burney’s leased the 22.5-acre property in 2013 and were approved for 10 commercial greenhouses by the township. Mr. Burney had planned on concentrating on hydroponic and aquaponic farming while JoAnn planned on returning to work in higher education.
All of that changed, however, when a brutal winter storm hit and animal control contacted their farm to see if they had room to take in some farm animals in dire straits. In the midst of the winter storm, the Burney’s recruited their friends to help them build paddocks on the farm and they took in the poor animals.
Since then, animal control has contacted the Burney’s numerous times to take in sick and ailing farm animals in dangerous situations. As a result, Allaire Community Farm is home to a mini donkey, alpacas, goats, sheep, ducks, horses, a pony and a pig.
JoAnn and Sean Burney make sure their rescued farm animals, inculding a mini donkey, sheep and goats enjoy their outdoor space with homemade pens. Photo by RYAN WELSH, STAR NEWS GROUP
The farm also has boarding space for horses and when the farm first
“We saw nonverbal kids speak; we saw non-social kids hug. We saw parents just joyful and full of excitement at what they were seeing their children do,” JoAnn exclaimed. “That’s when I decided—‘this I can get on board with.’”
The Burney’s continue to help special needs children by offering “Special Needs Days” at their farm, inviting children with special needs to interact with the farm animals through grooming and feeding. Children with emotional or learning disabilities allow the children to bond and identify with the animal, Sean explained.
“The animals were rescuing them, we were just the vehicle, we just stood back and let it happen,” JoAnn said.
Instead of just having special needs children visit the farm, the Burneys have many special needs children and young adults volunteer. And people from all ages, walks of life, those struggling with mental handicaps and at-risk teenagers are all welcome and encouraged to volunteer at the farm. Working with the animals and taking responsibility for something brings solace and joy to those struggling, truly making the farm a sanctuary for those who seek calmness in their hearts, JoAnn said. Over 50 volunteers currently work on the farm, dividing up their time and the responsibilities several days a week.
JoAnn grew up in Brick and Sean grew up in Neptune and Belmar, attending Manasquan High School. Consequently, their local roots further spurred them to want to give back to their community.
Once the farm began to become more and more busy, the Burney’s decided to move from their home in Howell, where they lived for 19 years, to the farmhouse on Allaire Road in October 2015. The Burney’s share the farmhouse with their two children, Rico, 19, a freshman at Brookdale Community College, and their daughter Emily, 16, a sophomore at Wall High School.
Prior to the farm, JoAnn was a kindergarten teacher at St. Paul’s Christian School up until last year. Years before, however, she worked in higher education—something she was planning on going back to before the farm evolved into the full-scale non-profit organization it is today.
Allaire Community Farm is 501[c] non-profit that depends upon funds from their pony parties, class trips, organic co- op, and community garden rentals to pay for the farm’s supplies, maintenance, and monthly lease, as well as the animals’ food and medical care. All of the money provided to the farm through the parties and lessons are marked as a charity donation to the farm. While the board of trustees at the farm has approved modest salaries for the Burney’s, they currently do not have salaries just yet as the cost of the farm is not quite meeting the incoming funds.
Despite the impressive number of volunteers, innumerable birthday parties, a welcoming community, and large partnerships, the biggest challenge facing the Burneys today is finances. JoAnn explained that the need for farming equipment is expensive and the vet bills are exorbitant.
While the farm fell into the animal sanctuary it is presently, the Burneys have not nixed the idea of the commercial greenhouses. Their ultimate goal is to have the greenhouses up and running and ultimately employ high-functioning special needs adults to work in the greenhouses after they finish their high level school programs.
“Our passion, what we really want to see happen with our garden, is the giving away of what we grow,” JoAnn said.
The produce for the organic co-op is not grown on the farm, but rather acquired from a local purveyor and sold to patrons. Some of the fresh produce obtained is supplied to five local families, four of which are battling cancer.
The farm will see some on-site planting very soon, however, as a groundbreaking ceremony for three community gardens took place on April 18. One of the gardens will be for the purpose of growing produce for a Community Supported Agriculture [CSA] where people can purchase a share of the produce. There are also two community gardens spanning two acres, one of which offers 14×10 foot plots for purchase where people can till their own garden. The other community garden will be jointly tended by the Burney’s and the community for the purpose of growing produce to donate to local food banks and families who are battling cancer.
Grace Bible Church Food Pantry, Manasquan Food Bank and Visitation Relief Center in Brick are slated to receive donations, according to Sean. The farm has also teamed up with the Monmouth County Master Gardeners, who will teach people how to cultivate the community garden.
Despite all of the hard work, long hours, and no paycheck, the Burney’s are completely and utterly content—a result of doing something good for animals and people in need.
The best part for the Burney’s? Hearing how the farm has improved and even saved people’s lives, a sentiment they hear from both the visitors and the volunteers.
“It’s not work,” Sean said. “Even though we do a lot of work Monday through Friday to have 400 people come on a ‘Special Needs Day,’ and that day is 14 hours long, you just feel so rewarded at the end.”
Anyone interested in volunteering at the farm or donating their skillset as an electrician or builder can contact JoAnn at 732-996-2754. Allaire Community Farm is located at 2840 Allaire Rd, in Wall Township.