THE ISSUE

The Lancaster County Agricultural Preserve Board, formed 40 years ago, recently celebrated its 1,000th preserved farm. That brings the total number of protected farms, including those by the Lancaster Farmland Trust, to more than 1,500 — comprising about 18% of the county’s acreage, LNP | LancasterOnline’s Carter Walker reported Jan. 30.

Lancaster County is famous for a number of things: its Amish and Mennonite communities, its history (going back to colonial days) and its Pennsylvania Dutch food (chicken corn soup, apple dumplings, whoopie pies, etc.), to name just a few.

It’s high time we add farmland preservation to the list.

Between the Farmland Trust, a private, nonprofit entity, and the county-run Ag Preserve Board, 110,000 acres of farmland have been preserved, Matt Knepper, the ag board’s director, told Walker.

“For me, it’s momentous,” said Ed Goodhart, a 36-year member of the board and former Manor Township supervisor. “We wondered, ‘Is this going to amount to anything? Can we really do this?’ Through a combination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people we made it happen.”

The milestone of 1,000 preserved farms — covering nearly 172 square miles — is a tremendous accomplishment by the Ag Preserve Board, and everyone involved deserves to be recognized. This is a significant step forward in protecting our agricultural heritage and a major driver of our economy.

As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Jeff Hawkes wrote Feb. 9: “Preserving farms is a strategy of Lancaster County’s land use plan that seeks to protect agriculture while containing most development within Lancaster city, boroughs, villages and their immediate surroundings.”

Frederick H. Hess’ 49-acre soybean and corn farm, in Warwick and Manheim townships, has the distinction of being the Ag Preserve Board’s 1,000th preserved farm.

“By preserving farms through the purchase of easements, or development rights, the board protects the land from uses other than agriculture,” Walker wrote.

It’s also fitting that the Hess farm straddles Warwick Township. As C. David Kramer, a former Warwick Township supervisor, wrote in a Feb. 10 letter:

“Pennsylvania leads the nation in agricultural preservation.

“Lancaster County leads Pennsylvania’s ag preservation.

“Warwick Township leads Lancaster County with more than 3,000 acres preserved.

“Warwick Township, therefore, leads the nation in agricultural preservation.”

Lancaster County includes more than 5,000 farms and a $1.5 billion agricultural industry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Farmland preservation makes sure that the land on which agriculture occurs is available for that economic return to continue,” Knepper told LNP | LancasterOnline.

Goodhart added: “People like living in Lancaster County, and when they think Lancaster County they think of agriculture.”

Josh Parsons, chairman of the Lancaster County Commissioners, told Walker that “Lancaster County is a growing, vibrant place, which is good because it means people want to live here.

“But we also want to ensure we strongly support productive agriculture as well as keep the character of our county, which makes it such a special and unique place to live.”

And the job is still far from finished. With only 30% of the land zoned agricultural preserved in Lancaster County, Knepper said much remains to be done.

Lancaster Farmland Trust also just announced a three-year campaign, “Honoring the Promise,” to raise $7.5 million, enough to save 50 farms and 4,000 acres of farmland.

It’s the first capital campaign for the organization, which has already spent $16.8 million to preserve over 31,000 acres since 1988 by buying conservation easements on 513 farms.

“The initiative will especially seek to preserve Plain-sect farms that have plans to keep agricultural pollutants from washing into streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Hawkes wrote.

Targeting these kinds of farms for preservation priority makes sense — given the environmental urgency about the bay — and we applaud the Trust for doing so.

Kicking off the campaign, the Steinman Foundation pledged a $2 million matching grant that seeks to leverage contributions totaling $4 million. The Steinman Foundation is a local family foundation funded by the companies that comprise Steinman Communications, including LNP Media Group. Beverly “Peggy” Steinman, chairman emeritus of Steinman Communications, and Barry Shaw, board executive chairman of the Wenger Group, are honorary co-chairs of the capital campaign.

The $2 million pledge represents its largest ever, one-time contribution to a single organization, Shane Zimmerman, foundation president, told Hawkes. It will also be the largest single contribution received by the Trust.

Both the Ag Preserve Board and the Trust have done tremendous work, and we look forward to them celebrating more Lancaster County farmland preservation milestones in the years ahead.