Farmland preservation at crossroads

From the air, the county is a patchwork quilt of farmland. (file photo) (Richard Hertzler/Staff)

Five farm-owning families are closer to protecting their Lancaster County properties from future development after more than $160,000 was raised this spring by officials at the Lancaster Farmland Trust.

But that fundraising is only a small portion of the money needed for trust officials to reach their ultimate goal of preserving 20 farms — 1,222 acres — this year.

This week, trust spokeswoman Laura Brenner said those farms would be scattered throughout the county, though she could not say exactly where.

“We don't share our list of farmers waiting to preserve their land out of respect for their privacy,” she said. “The benefit for many of our farmers is their ability to remain anonymous if they so choose.”

A total $162,490 has been raised since May, which kicked off the trust's springtime fundraiser.

“The lion's share of our donors are private individuals who enjoy the beauty of the farmland in Lancaster County,” Brenner said.

The total raised also includes a one-to-one match from Lancaster County government, whose commissioners have made up to $250,000 in matching funds available through the Lancaster Farmland Trust Challenge Grant program, which began in 2004.

Most recently, the grant program has been funded with Marcellus Shale legacy dollars, said Matt Knepper, director of the Lancaster County Agricultural Preserve Board. The state’s Marcellus Legacy Fund directs a portion of gas well impact fees statewide to help finance programs such as the trust.

According to Brenner, securing a conservation easement on an average-sized, 60-acre farm costs about $66,000.

Since its inception in 1988, the trust has helped to preserve a total of 518 farms — 31,000 acres — valued at more than $95 million, Brenner said.

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