As the Amish family scurried around in the midst of harvesting corn, their picturesque 50-acre homestead on Wednesday became a milestone — the 500th farm preserved in Lancaster County by the private Lancaster Farmland Trust.
The easement signed at a ceremony near Peach Bottom, in Fulton Township, marked another achievement. It is the 30th anniversary of a nonprofit that started out on a shoestring budget and tiny staff but has evolved into a major cog in saving the county’s fertile farmland.
The group’s flexibility with what they can allow on preserved farms and lack of government funding has made them the main preservation option for Amish and Mennonite farm families, especially farmers who don’t want to receive government aid.
Members of the Plain Sect community serve on the group’s board of directors.
To date, Lancaster Farmland Trust has preserved 30,000 acres of farmland.
The taxpayer-supported Lancaster County Agricultural Preserve Board, an arm of county government, has preserved 972 farms and 81,693 acres in the county so far.
Combined, the nearly 111,700 acres saved by the two groups equals nearly 175 square miles, or nearly 18 percent of the county’s land area.
Lancaster Farmland Trust has grown in both size and support through the years, building a partnership within the agriculture industry and teambuilding within the community.
“We are proud of our accomplishments,” says Karen Martynick, executive director of the trust since 2004.
“We recognize our success is the result of the collective effort of farmers, donors, volunteers and community leaders who have made a commitment to protect what is special about the county.”
In an expansion of its initial mission to preserve farmland, the trust now emphasizes protection of water quality, both on preserved farms and those not preserved around the county.
“First and foremost, we want to preserve farmland and our rural way of life,” explains Jeff Swinehart, the trust’s deputy director.
“Secondly, we want to provide our farmers the resources to be better stewards of their land.”