Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Lancaster Farmland Trust reports a successful 2012
BY DAN NEPHIN, Staff Writer
Last year, the Lancaster County commissioners awarded Lancaster Farmland Trust $700,000 in the form of a matching challenge grant.
The private, nonprofit Trust used the money to help preserve 19 farms by buying nearly $3.48 million worth of development rights.
"That equates to the county preserving these farms at 20 cents on the dollar, which I think anyone would look at and go, 'That's a significant investment,'" Jeff Swinehart, Trust deputy director, told the commissioners Wednesday.
Swinehart and Trust executive director Karen Martynick updated the commissioners on how the grant money was used.
To get the $700,000, the Trust had to raise the same amount, which it exceeded. The grant program has been in place since 2005, though the county's funding has changed; this year, commissioners awarded $500,000.
Of the 19 farms the Trust preserved last year, Plain-sect farmers own 12, Swinehart said.
The majority of the Trust's work is with farms owned by Old Order Amish and Mennonites, who often prefer not to work with the government but are interested in protecting farmland from development.
The 19 farms total 1,142 acres and are in Brecknock, Colerain, Conestoga, Eden, East Lampeter, Leacock, Penn, Rapho, Sadsbury, Strasburg and West Earl townships.
Including administrative costs, it cost an average of just more than $613 an acre to preserve them, Swinehart said.
Last year was the Trust's third-best year in number of farms preserved, trailing 2008, when it preserved 23 farms, and 2006, when it preserved 21 farms, though the Trust had more county money to work with in those years.
Since the grant program began, the county has provided the Trust $6.6 million, which has helped it preserve 143 farms by purchasing $28.5 million worth of development rights, Swinehart said.
The average price to preserve those farms was just under $760 an acre, Swinehart said.
Martynick thanked the commissioners for funding the program, saying it helps leverage private donations.
And last year, for the first time, she said, The Pew Charitable Trusts offered to match whatever the Trust raised, up to $1.1 million -- which the Trust exceeded.
The Trust raised $3.1 million in all last year.
"I can't begin to tell you what it means to a donor when you go and you sit with them and you ask them (to donate), to be able to say to them, 'Your gift is going to be matched dollar-for-dollar by the county -- and, oh, by the way, Pew Charitable Trusts will add 20 percent to that,'" she said.
Lancaster also is closing in on its goal of becoming the first county in the country to preserve 100,000 acres of farmland.
As of Jan. 22, the county had preserved 95,260 acres of farmland, according to Matt Knepper, Agricultural Preserve Board director. That's nearly 16 percent of the county's 607,360 acres of land.