PA ag land preservation program marks 25th year, protects 4,452nd farm
The Spring House Farm in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley predates the Revolutionary War. Jere and Angela Hissong have owned it for less than a year, but they have secured its legacy far into the future.
In October, they sold the development rights to their 123-acre Franklin County farm, with its rolling croplands and pastures, to the state’s agricultural protection program.
“My grandfather preserved his farm, my father preserved his, and now we are preserving ours,” Jere Hissong said. “It’s kind of a tradition.”
It was the 4,452nd farm preserved since the state launched its farm preservation program in 1988. In the quarter century since then, it has protected 480,089 acres, more than any other farm preservation program in the country.
The 25th anniversary of the program was marked Oct. 10 at a ceremony on the Hissong’s farm, where the State Agricultural Land Preservation Board meeting took place, and the purchase of the Spring House Farm development rights was approved.
“Nearly 5,000 farm families have made the enormous commitment to protect their farm forever, and many more are on the waiting list,” said Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary George Greig. ”Today, we celebrate with gratitude their enduring decision.”
The state program dates to 1987, when voters — by a 2-to-1 margin — approved the sale of $100 million in bonds to protect farmland. A year later, the General Assembly established the framework for the farm preservation program, and a Bureau of Farmland Preservation was established with the state Department of Agriculture.
The program enables state, county and local governments to purchase conservation easements, or development rights, from owners of high priority farmland. Since its creation, the state, county, local governments and nonprofit organizations have invested more than $1.2 billion to permanently preserve farmland.
“Pennsylvania is a national leader in the program,” said Doug Wolfgang, director of the Bureau of Farmland Protection. “The program is a shining example of strong partnerships between all forms of governments and nonprofit organizations, in this case with the common goal of saving our farmland for future generations.”
While the Hissong’s farm was the most recent to be preserved in Franklin County, the event also recognized John Koons, Sr., for being — in 1992 — the first to preserve a farm in the county, and the 100th farm preserved statewide.
American Farmland Trust President Andrew McElwaine presented Koons with its Local Hero Award, recognizing his 60 years of conservation leadership, including adopting no-till farming in 1969, when hardly anyone else was doing no-till. His farm became a demonstration site for Penn State University to teach others about no-till.
“Through his leadership, John Koons has set an example for other farms to follow in preserving farmland, conserving soil and land and protecting Pennsylvania’s water resources,” McElwaine said.
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