MANHEIM, Pa. — Despite the overcast day, the gathering at Sego Sago Farm on Dec. 5 was a bright moment for Lancaster County, Gene Garber said.
Garber, the chairman of the county Agricultural Preserve Board, opened the ceremony commemorating the preservation of the county’s 100,000th acre of farmland by calling the event a “stepping stone” toward greater goals.
“Hopefully, we’re on the way to preserving our agriculture,” he said.
Lancaster is the first county in the nation to reach the 100,000-acre milestone.
Dennis Grimm, chairman of the Lancaster Farmland Trust board, contrasted the preserved farm to a former farm down the road where the construction of several homes is starting. That building project is “right where it should be,” inside a planned growth area, he said.
Two silos still stand behind the frames of the new houses. “If that doesn’t exemplify what we’re trying to do” by balancing growth and agriculture, Grimm said.
Grimm praised the cooperation of government officials at all levels and thanked farmers for their commitment to the future.
“Those results are forever,” he said. “That’s a long, long time.”
Karen Martynick, executive director of the Lancaster Farmland Trust, said that for the 1,200 farm families who have preserved their farms, “protecting the land that they love is more important than holding out” for potential financial gain from development.
“When I look at the number, it’s not just the acres of land,” said County Commissioner Scott Martin. “For me, it’s a celebration of cooperation.”
Martin praised the state government and USDA for providing preservation money in conjunction with county, local governments and private groups like Lancaster Farmland Trust.
Preserving farmland is about economics, not just aesthetics, Martin’s fellow commissioner, Dennis Stuckey, said.
“Our goal is to preserve production agriculture. Not open space — production agriculture,” he said.
A host of other dignitaries added their accolades, including state Reps. Mindy Fee and Scott Greiner, who represent Lancaster County, and Doug Wolfgang, director of the state Bureau of Farmland Preservation.
Sego Sago Farm, which has 61.9 acres of tillable land, was preserved for a total of $167,736 by Lancaster County, the Farmland Trust and Penn Township.
Lancaster County’s share, nearly $97,000, is half of the appraised easement value. The other two entities plan to sell transfer-of-development rights, or TDRs, to cover their expenses.
David Kratzer, manager of Penn Township, where Sego Sago Farm is located, said Forino Co., a Sinking Spring-based developer, is buying $126,000 worth of TDRs because of a high-density project.
Penn, Warwick and Caernarvon are the first townships in the county to create a TDR program, which encourages developers to build in planned growth areas rather than more sensitive places.
Bruce Lefever, who owns Sego Sago Farm with his wife, Patricia, is the sixth generation of his family to live on the farm.
The farmhouse on the property predates the Lefever family’s ownership and has a 1785 cornerstone.
The Lefevers have a farmer who plants corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and alfalfa on the land.
Bruce Lefever told the group he did not think his family needed to be thanked for preserving its farm. “We’re glad to do it,” he said.
The Lefevers started the preservation process about three years ago and got serious in February this year, partly through the encouragement of their son, Daryl Lefever, Patricia Lefever said.
The organizers told the couple early in the preservation process that their application would be finalized around the time the county hit the 100,000-acre mark. They asked the Lefevers if they would be open to being the milestone farm but did not say for sure that their farm would be the one.
The Lefevers still had not heard when they went to the Farmland Trust’s annual banquet in October.
Finally, “we read our names in the newspaper,” Patricia Lefever said. “Isn’t that how you find things out?”
Bruce Lefever’s great-grandfather gave Sego Sago its distinctive name, from the Iroquois for “cheerful and welcome,” Patricia Lefever said.
“It was really an honor to be able to do this,” she said of the preservation. “The development’s getting closer all the time, and we really wanted it to remain a farm.”