Kuperus remembered as ‘visionary,’ ag advocate

Senior Editor

(Jan. 15, 2016) Charles Miles Kuperus, who served as New Jersey secretary of agriculture from 2002 to 2008, is being remembered for his passion for the preservation of the state’s agricultural land.
Mr. Kuperus, in his role as the state’s top agricultural official, was determined that New Jersey’s moniker, The Garden State, would not be despoiled.
Mr. Kuperus died at his home in Sussex, in Sussex County, on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, losing a battle with cancer. He was 57.
Mr. Kuperus was named ag secretary in 2002 by then Gov. James McGreevey and served until 2008, when he resigned from the post under then Gov. Jon Corzine shortly after Corzine unsuccessfully attempted to defund and abandon the agricultural department. In his six years at the helm, Mr. Kuperus was credited with the preservation of more than 1,100 farms and a total of 85,000 acres.
That was part of his vision for the New Jersey agriculture of the future, according to Lynne Richmond, public information officer for the ag department.
“He was a visionary and a fearless advocate for the role of agriculture in the New Jersey of the future,” she said.
From that vision emerged two concepts well ahead of their time — the enactment of a plan and method to improve what New Jersey school kids were eating for their lunches — the first such plan in the nation — and what Richmond described as “a smart growth plan” for agriculture.
“It became a planning tool for municipalities as they planned their future,” Richmond said.
It fostered the concept that agriculture should remain “an integral part of any community.”
“Charles Kuperus worked tirelessly on behalf of agriculture in New Jersey and that’s an understatement,” said Richmond.
“He was a different kind of secretary,” said Peter Furey, veteran executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau .
“He was very much into the details of the job,” Furey called it the “minutia,” adding Mr. Kuperus “did his homework. He had a nose for details. He read all those reports. He was very conscientious We liked hin a lot.”
Mr. Kuperus, who advanced to state ag secretary from a position as vice president of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, was a man of vast integrity, Furey continued. “He had a terrific sense of family and service to his community.”
From his home in Sussex County to his desk in Trenton was a two-hour commute,” Furey said, “and even when he had to go to Glassboro or somewhere in South Jersey, he never complained. He did it without blinking an eye.”
Normally, a lot of public relations goes along with a state goventment job which is part of the governor’s cabinet.
Not so in Kuperus’s view.
“He was not into the political stuff,” said Furey. “It is really unfortunate that he was taken as such an early age.”
“The passing of Charles Kuperus is a terrible loss, not only for his family but for the entire state of New Jersey, that benefited so greatly from his leadership and expertise,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
“His efforts to preserve open space and farmland not only helped keep New Jersey the ‘Garden State’ but  improved the quality of life for all of our residents.”
“As Secretary of Agriculture Charles Kuperus did more to preserve farmland than any other ag secretary in state history,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
“Under his leadership more development rights on farms were purchased but he also supported initiatives to save farmland, from supporting smart growth and the State Plan to the Highlands Act.” Charles Kuperus wanted to make sure farms grew crops instead of houses and took political heat for some of those positions.  
He tirelessly promoted New Jersey farm products through “Jersey Fresh” and local farm markets and farm stands.
“When you drive around New Jersey and see preserved farms or buy local produce, that is Charles Kuperus’s legacy.”
Douglas Fisher, who succeeded Kuperus as ag secretary has this farewell: “Charles Kuperus was a fierce advocate for New Jersey farmers, a forward-thinker who served with distinction. I was proud to have known and worked with him.”
Kuperus came by his devotion to agriculture quite naturally.
He was born in Sussex on the family dairy farm and he and his wife, high school sweetheart, Marjorie Veenstra Kuperus founded Kuperus Farmside Gardens in 1979.
His family, in his obituary in the local newspaper, told of his Christian upbringing and schooling and of his great faith.
They wrote: “Charles walked with the Lord throughout his life. The Lord set the path before him, provided guidance and support and led him to be a beloved husband, father and grandfather.”