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Franklin County has over 6,100 acres of farmland preserved

September 16, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Don Martin is worried people take it for granted there will always be enough farmers and farmland in the United States to grow food for the three meals a day Americans are used to.

"I'm concerned about our prime farmland. It's a nonrenewable resource," said Martin, who farms about 800 acres off Newcomer Road in Guilford Township. "In this country we have three meals a day, and that's something I would like to see for future generations."

Martin was thinking of the future when he applied to have 90 acres of his farmland accepted into a voluntary statewide agricultural preservation program.

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The State Farmland Preservation Board accepted Martin's 90 acres and acreage from two other Franklin County farms into the program in August.

That pushed the county total to 6,115 acres of agricultural land committed in perpetuity to farming.

"We are not just preserving our heritage, we are ensuring that this important resource will be available for every future citizen of Franklin County," said County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott, who is a member of the State Farmland Preservation Board.

Elliott has been an advocate of the program and seen Franklin County rise from 23rd in the state in the number of preserved acres to 8th in just five years. All told, the county has purchased acreage on 42 farms countywide.

Through the program, the state and county jointly purchase the development rights from the farmer.

Martin said it's important to protect his heritage. His father farmed the land he now does, and his grandfather had a farm a few miles away.

"We've had farming in the blood for several generations," he said. "My son is in business with me here."

In addition to Don and Verna Martin's Falling Spring Farms, LLC, acreage owned by farmers Barb and Bennett Engle in Montgomery Township and Harold and Helen Forrester in Greene Township was accepted into the program last month, said Sherri Clayton, senior planner for Franklin County.

Since 1989, the county has put more than $1.4 million into the program, and the state has kicked in millions more, Clayton said.

Interest in the program is not waning.

The Martins have filed applications for their three farms, and Clayton said she has 70 applications filed and another 11 farms that are going to go to the state board for approval soon.

"Our good farmland is gone and there is no way of getting it back," Martin said.

But the program allows the state and county to jointly purchase easements to preserve the most productive agricultural lands that remain undeveloped for future generations to farm.

The state began the program in 1990, and the county purchased its first easements in 1992 - a total of 156 acres from two crop farms in Antrim and Quincy townships.

An appraiser determines the land's market and farm potential, and the program pays 85 percent of the difference. On average, that's running $1,500 to $2,000 per acre in Franklin County, she said.

If the landowner agrees to the price and the state approves, the owner is issued a check for the development rights.

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