Pennsylvania has some of the most valuable farmland in the country, which makes it some of the most valuable in the world. However, Pennsylvania is not noted for forward thinking when it comes to environmental and conservation issues. Farmland preservation, however, might be the shining exception to our collective shortsightedness.
It should be noted, however, that while farmland is being preserved, the planning for development in Pennsylvania’s counties and townships is among the worst and most haphazard in the country.
The upside of this issue would be Chester County’s Lundale Farm, once home to a couple who made a big difference both locally and state-wide in this important cause. Sam and Eleanor Morris bought Lundale Farm in 1946 as a place to raise a growing family. The original purchase was 46 acres but as surrounding land became available, they acquired it; at the same time the family grew to include seven kids. Eventually the farm encompassed 350 acres, much of it prime farmland.
In 1967, already concerned about growing urban sprawl and the concomitant loss of valuable farmland, they formed the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, whose mission was, and remains, to preserve open space in the two watersheds through donation of easements on private land and the acquisition of land for public use. FPCCT was one of the earliest land trusts in the United States to use easements to preserve farmland and open space. According to Pam Brown, Conservation Director of the Trust, “The 9,600 acres [conserved so far] includes about 4,000 that were conveyed to the State and Chester County and include parts of Warwick County Park, French Creek State Park, and the Pennsylvania Game lands in Warwick Township. We only hold conservation easements, but maybe 30 percent of the conserved land is in agricultural use.” A conservation easement preserves land from development and places it either in agricultural use, as Lundale Farm’s 350 acres, or for public use as in additions to county and state parks or environmental safeguards.
Continuing his interest in conservation, Sam Morris was elected to Pennsylvania’s General Assembly in 1970 where he became chairman of the House Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee. Using this leverage, he became the primary sponsor of legislation enabling the purchase of development rights on farms, legislation that set aside $100 million to fund these purchases. Now, more than 4,100 farms have been approved for easement purchases totaling more than 450,000 acres of Pennsylvania farmland, this out of a total of 7,809, 244 acres of land devoted to farming in this state. It should be noted that agriculture remains one of Pennsylvania’s top three economic engines, covering everything from apples and other orchard fruits to dairy to horses.
It seems only fitting that the farm the Morrises purchased and where they raised their children and ran a dairy operation should now become a pilot program for the Pennsylvania Sustainable Agriculture Association or PASA. Founded in 1992, PASA is an independent non-profit whose aims include helping Pennsylvania farmers to find suitable land. About 100 acres of Lundale Farm’s 350 is woodland. Another 100 acres has been identified as suitable for crops, appropriate for raising vegetables and fruits as well as hay and oats for animal feed.
Some of that land is currently under cultivation by T.J. and Chris Costa of Turning Roots Farm (www.turningrootsfarm.com). “We have five acres leased from Lundale, three acres of which are currently under cultivation. The other two are sown in cover crops in preparation for cultivation,” says T.J. They began leasing from Lundale in the spring of 2011 and operate both a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, wherein customers sign up for a weekly delivery of vegetables, and a farm stand. Turning Roots also sells at a farmers’ market in Lansdowne. “This year we doubled our CSA membership to 55 customers,” T.J. says. Costa says this winter will be a time for assessing just how big Turning Roots should become, what is sustainable for them on a human scale, and what works as a business model. Other farmers may join Turning Roots in using the croplands at Lundale in the future.
“What makes Lundale Farm perfect for this program,” says Marilyn Anthony, executive director of PASA, “is that the board places no restrictions on the land. Some landowners will stipulate that any pasturage cannot be used for animals that will be slaughtered for meat, or that kind of restriction. Lundale Farm remains open to farmers who will pasture beef cattle as well those pasturing dairy goats, or chickens, for instance.” Lundale Farm, though, is restricted in one important way.
“We want to recruit a ‘multi-enterprise farming community’ to Lundale which would ultimately include several farmers with different kinds of businesses spread across the property” says Laura Morris Siena, who is both a family member and current president of the board that oversees the farm. She adds, “There is enough land available for pasture that more than one livestock farmer would fit. However, we might not recruit someone right away–we are looking for farmers, but we want to make sure we recruit those who are aligned with our mission and values and who have a business plan which can lead to durable success.”
The mission and values to which she refers are put forth in a paper about the farm, its history, provenance and proposed future. The mission: ?Lundale Farm is a sustainable farming community that is a place of inspiration, innovation and opportunity for new farmers, landowners, and others committed to locally grown food.?
Working to accomplish the mission both the board of the farm and PASA will adhere to these values also put forth in the paper:
If Lundale Farm’s mission can be spread to other farmland in Pennsylvania (and other states), there is hope for the sustainable agricultural movement. The increasing interest of ordinary people in where their food comes from and how it is raised certainly helps. Pennsylvania may yet turn out to be a leader in this aspect of ecological concern to all of us.
For more information:
French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust: www.frenchandpickering.org
Conservation easement info: www.conservationtools.org
To access the PA Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Farmland Preservation, go to Google and type it in. The website explains exactly how a farm is designated for an agricultural conservation easement in Pennsylvania. There may be county regulations and restrictions added but there is a link to those counties who have regulations in place, including Chester, Lancaster and Delaware counties.
For information on Delaware’s Agricultural Land Preservation: http://dda.delaware.gov/aglands/index.shtml
For Maryland: http://www.mda.state.md.us/malpf.php
Last Harvest: From Cornfield to New Town, Real Estate Development from George Washington to the Building of the Twenty-First Century, and Why We Live in Houses Anyway by Witold Rybczynski Scribner 2008.
The story of New Daleville, a development in Londonderry Township in southern Chester County. How a 90-acre cornfield became a neo-traditional housing development.