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$2 Million Raised in Push for Lancaster Farmland Preservation

10/27/2012 7:00 AM
By Anne Harnish Food and Family Features Editor

LANCASTER, Pa. — Dollars from corn chowder sold at Isaac’s restaurants during the month of June — made from sweet corn grown by a farm family in Lancaster County — raised more than $16,000 to help preserve more of the county’s farmland next year.

This is just one example of what it took to complete a major push to raise funds for farmland preservation, officials of Lancaster Farmland Trust said Wednesday night at the trust’s annual Share the Bounty awards ceremony at the Eden Resort hotel in Lancaster.

In a yearlong campaign to keep hundreds of acres of Lancaster County’s farmland from succumbing to the pressures of development — while land prices are still slightly down from the slump in the economy — the private, nonprofit organization was able to raise more than $2 million to preserve farms in the coming year.

Over the course of its 24-year history, the trust has preserved 400 farms and 24,717 acres in Lancaster County.

Five farm families received recognition at the award ceremony for preserving their Lancaster County farms this year.

Daniel Smucker, who raises corn, hay, soybeans and beef on his family’s 80 acres, said, “I had been thinking about it for 10 or 15 years. As time went on, I saw a lot of building happening (around the area). ... If this continues, there may not be a farm in the future.”

Smucker, who has nine children, added, “We have something special in this land, and it’s basically a gift to all of us.”

Awardee Ronald Walton received preservation status for his family’s 17 acres this year after a two-year struggle to persuade Conestoga Township to change his land’s zoning to agriculture so it could be preserved.

“It was our dad’s dream to preserve this land,” said Walton’s son Andrew. “We will be the third generation here.”

The trust’s executive director, Karen Martynick, said that during the yearlong campaign to raise $1.1 million, matching grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts (20 percent) and Lancaster County (up to $700,000) provided an incentive and significant additional monies to reach the $2 million raised by the end.

Of the other many private and corporate donors from the community that also contributed, many noted the long-term benefits to the county in keeping its farmland viable.

“And, we are now being strategic with the farmland we help to save,” Martynick said.

She said the trust looks at the map to see where farmland in the county has already been preserved and tries to “fill in the hole in the doughnut.”

By preserving contiguous farmland or land along impaired waterways, she said, it’s possible to create an even greater return on value, accomplishing conservation at the same time, for instance.

At the night’s special fundraising event, an auction for acres, bidders from the audience raised another $75,000 on the spot to preserve a single 72-acre farm in East Lampeter Township.

Contributing to that, and for the second year in a row, Philadelphia resident Roberta Gentile surprised the trust with a $35,000 donation Wednesday at the auction to preserve farmland in honor of her sister.

The two sisters traveled through Lancaster County many times as children and came to love its agrarian landscape.

A number of awards were presented by Lancaster Farmland Trust during the event. For his efforts, Isaac’s owner Phil Wenger, received the Corporate Sponsor of the Year award.

“It was very motivating for us,” Wenger said. There is a lot of disconnect between the people eating here and the farms in the county, he said.

Beverly R. Steinman, chairman of the board of Lancaster Newspapers, owner of Lancaster Farming, was named Distinguished Benefactor of the Year.

Larry Lawton, a retiree who began volunteering with the trust last year, received the Volunteer of the Year award for going “above and beyond” his duties, visiting many of the trusts’ 400 county farms to monitor their preservation status and talk to each farmer.

“I can’t wait to start again next year,” Lawton said.


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