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Orchard joins county preservation proghram

December 21, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - A family-owned, five-generation orchard on Tuesday became the first fruit operation to be preserved in Franklin County.

Tracey's Orchard, just east of Greencastle, officially was entered into the Franklin County Agricultural Land Preservation Program, which acquires the right to develop the land. The farm will remain agricultural land in perpetuity.

The amount paid to the landowner is the difference between the value of the land for development and its value as farmland. The Traceys donated some of that difference back to the program.

Antrim Township, involved for the first time in a land preservation transaction, funded between 60 percent and 70 percent of the payment, according to Scott Diffenderfer, chairman of the Antrim Township Board of Supervisors. The preservation of the Traceys' acreage was "a wonderful thing," Diffenderfer said.

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"Land-use issues are never going to go away. Today, the Traceys took a step forward and made a serious commitment to keep this wonderful piece of acreage in agriculture," he said.

G. Warren Elliot, chairman of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, along with D. Eugene Gayman, chairman of the Agricultural Land Preservation Board, signed a proclamation thanking Antrim Township for contributing to the purchase of the development rights to the Tracey property.

The signing took place in the orchard's rustic produce market amid baskets of fruit, antique kitchen tools and home-canned pie fillings.

The Tracey family raises fruit, beef cattle and crops on 176 acres.

"It's beautiful out here," said Elliott, a member of the state farmland preservation board.

"That landscape will always be the same. Everyone benefits from farmland preservation, not just the farm family and the farm-related businesses. This also preserves our ability to raise food and feed ourselves. Heaven forbid the day we become dependent on foreign entities to feed us, as we do to fuel our cars," he said.

The preservation of farmland is a priority with Elliott and fellow commissioners Robert Thomas and Cheryl Plummer, Elliott said, adding that since the 1990 inception of the program in Franklin County, money for farmland preservation has increased by 12,000 percent.

Ralph Tracey, who runs the orchard with his wife of 52 years, Connie; their son, Edwin; daughter-in-law, Tawyna; grandson, Sean; and granddaughter, Megan; daughter Sandy Martin; and other family members, said that in putting his acreage into preservation he was "thinking about the future for my son and grandson. I'd rather have the land than the money. We're supposed to be stewards of the land, so I think we're doing the right thing."

Another son, Dennis, also was a partner in the business. He died in a farm accident in 2002.

Ralph Tracey started working at the orchard in the summer of 1950, when he was 15. The orchard was owned by I.C. Barr at that time. Connie Traey was Barr's granddaughter.

The Traceys' acreage is the 57th farm to be preserved in the county. To date, 7,968 acres of farmland have been preserved at a cost of nearly $11 million. The farms cover an area equivalent to the land mass of the Franklin County communities of Chambersburg, Greencastle, Mercersburg and Mont Alto.

Franklin County is second in the state in apple production.

Photos by Richard T. Meagher/Staff Photographer

The Ralph Tracey farm and orchard in Antrim Township, Pa., which covers 176 acres, was entered into the Franklin County Agricultural Land Preservation program Tuesday.

Ralph Tracey, left, owner of Tracey's Orchard in Antrim Township, signs a sales agreement for Ralph Tracey Conservation Easement. Signing for the easement are D. Eugene Gayman, center, chairman of the Agricultural Land Preservation Board, and G. Warren Elliott, chairman of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners.

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