25 Years, 25,000 Acres

2/2/2013 7:00 AM
By Jon Rutter Lancaster Newspapers

Lancaster Farmland Trust at Multiple Milestones

If you shy away from math but love farmland, the Lancaster Farmland Trust has a sweetly simple equation for you.

Nearly 25 years of land preservation efforts equal about 25,000 acres. That breaks down to roughly 1,000 acres set aside annually.

The pace of protection has trended upward over time. In its first year, 1988, the trust preserved three farms for a total of 300 acres, said Jeff Swinehart, the organization’s deputy director. The 2012 total, announced last week, was 27 farms and 1,522 acres.

The trust finished the period with a flourish of projects, according to trust spokeswoman Karen Dickerson, who said real estate transactions often conclude toward year’s end.

Swinehart said one of the preservation hot spots in 2012 and 2011 was in Colerain Township near Andrew’s Bridge over the Octoraro Creek on the Lancaster/Chester county line. A landowner there donated 70 acres two years ago, he said. “That started it.”

In 2012, he added, “we had the fortunate opportunity to work with an adjacent Amish farmer” who gave the trust “very significant” help in preserving 81 acres. That deal was completed in September.

In August, the trust preserved its first land in Chester County when it obtained three easements to 125 acres adjoining the above tracts. Meanwhile, Swinehart said, Lancaster Farmland Trust is continuing to work with the first landowner to set aside three more properties totaling 300 acres.

By the end of its 25th anniversary year this year, the trust expects to reach a much-heralded milestone by having protected a total of 100,000 acres collectively with the Lancaster County Agricultural Preserve Board.

The county would be the first in the nation to save that much farmland. The private nonprofit trust anticipates holding easements on 30 percent of the land, Swinehart said.

The focus on agriculture will continue, Swinehart said, but there’s growing realization that “this land plays a critical part” in tackling urban, suburban and Chesapeake Bay problems with sediment, excess nutrients and stormwater.

Other trust highlights from 2012 included helping farmers meet environmental regulations and encouraging good soil and water stewardship through the trust’s Smart Farms program, provided to all owners of preserved farms.

The trust also held best-management educational workshops for more than 80 farmers and was co-host for a workshop with the Lancaster County Conservancy on stream buffers and environmental compliance.

It also used a 1675 Foundation grant to encourage best-management practices in the Octoraro watershed. Information on such practices was provided to 400 farmers.

Assisting farmers with stream-bank fencing was another focus; an additional 2,000 feet of fencing was installed in the Mill Creek watershed.

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