Franklin County adds 19 farms to perservation program in 2007

January 05, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Nineteen farms totaling 2,636 acres were entered into Franklin County's farmland preservation program in 2007, the most of any year in its history.

The latest farms to be preserved were the 226-acre Stoner Hijos Hill Inc. farm on Oellig Road in Montgomery and Peters townships and the 63-acre Forrester farm on Orchard Road in Greene Township, according to the County Planning Department. The purchase of the development rights was approved in December by the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Land Preservation Board.

Stoner Hijos was paid $544,670 for the easements and $158,430 was paid for the Forrester easements, Planning Director Phil Tarquino said.

Tim Stoner said the farm already has three parcels totaling 678 acres in the program. Money from the first parcel entered into the program 14 years ago was used to expand the business, he said.


The money from the latest sale of development rights will also be plowed back into the farm, with much of it going to pay off mortgages on land, he said. Stoner Hijos Hill Inc. owns about 1,500 acres and rents another 140 acres, he said.

Greene Township contributed $100,000 toward buying the Forrester farm easements, County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said. Last year Greene, Washington and Antrim townships contributed $518,000 for farmland preservation, according to county figures. "I would encourage other townships to follow that lead," he said.

During the past three years, the county allocated $5 million from a bond issue for farmland preservation and received $7.4 million in state funds to preserve 5,000 acres, according to the Planning Department.

"It's a bargain. We should buy as much of it as fast as we possibly can," Elliott said. The county allocated $1.8 million for preservation in 2008, County Administrator John Hart said.

"Twelve years ago, it wasn't necessarily a popular program," said Elliott, a member of the state preservation board. Since it began in the early 1990s, the county has preserved 12,704 acres on 93 farms and ranks eighth among the 59 participating counties in the state, he said.

"We still get criticism," Commissioner Cheryl Plummer said. The money paid the farmers, she said, is a good investment. "Don't ever let this country not be able to feed itself," she said.

Commissioner Bob Thomas said he is a believer in preservation and it will continue.

Preserving farmland helps the economy, environment and quality of life, as well as tourism and planning for future development, Elliott said.

He and Plummer will work to create a nonprofit organization, either a land conservancy or trust, to encourage private land preservation after they leave office, Elliott said. He is also seeking reappointment to the state board before his term expires in April, he said.

While the land preserved so far exceeds the combined acreage of the county's seven boroughs, Elliott said "critical mass" for keeping farming and related businesses viable is about 75,000 acres, a goal he believes is achievable. "We're not just preserving a farm to save a space," Elliott said. The county has some of the best soil to be found in the eastern United States, he said.

Quality of soil is one of the ways farms that apply for preservation are ranked, he said.

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