Farmland in West Lampeter Township, Lancaster County, PA
(Photo: Nicholas Tonelli/Flickr)
Things changed a year ago this week, as the first closures of the pandemic era hit home. One of the first noticeable impacts was the strain on the nation’s food system, as grocery store shelves were cleaned out. Finding flour for baking was next to impossible.
Then, with the coming of spring, farmer’s markets opened up and the crowds came. We wrote about this in a two part series in July and August. The pattern has continued. Farmers selling grass-fed beef, lamb, pork, and poultry have seen demand increase by 300% or more. Due to shortages in local meat processors, farmers are booking lambs for slaughter that haven’t even been born yet.
It all points to the value of local and regional farming. Which, of course, requires secure farmland and farmers.
In that regard, we heard last month one more installment of the continuing success story that is Pennsylvania’s Farmland Preservation Program.
Another 2,638 acres on 30 farms in 16 counties were protected in February. This is on top of the 14,727 acres on 177 farms protected in 2020.
Since 1988, Pennsylvania’s program has purchased conservation easements on 594,457 acres in 59 counties.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen vividly how crucial our farms are for food in our stores and on our tables,” Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “Ensuring that farms stay farms instead of becoming warehouses or parking lots is an investment in all of our futures, and one of the most effective partnerships among farmers and government at every level.”
In 2019, Pennsylvania’s total investment in farmland preservation was $56.3 million, including $18.3 million in county funds to match state dollars.
Over the course of the three decade old Farmland Preservation Program, Pennsylvania has invested $1.6 billion in conservation easements for protecting farms. It sounds like an enormous amount, but remember, Pennsylvania agriculture is a $135.7 billion industry.
Lancaster County is one of the many examples of the program’s success. Between the Lancaster County Agricultural Preserve Board and the Lancaster Farmland Trust, over 112,000 acres of farmland on 1,500 farms have been protected, more than 18% of the county’s land area.
The February 2020 announcement included conservation easements on five Lancaster farms, with the county matching the state investment by more than two to one.
All of this goes to show the vital role of conserving private lands, and the crucial importance of public investment in that conservation.
Don’t forget to send us your 2020 land conservation success stories as they develop. They’ll land in the new and growing collection at success.chesapeakeconservation.org, a tool we can all use to show collective impact. See the checklist below for easy-to-follow, simple guidelines.