Lancaster County Ag. Preserve Board celebrates 1,000th farm preserved

Michael Yoder//January 24, 2020

Lancaster County Ag. Preserve Board celebrates 1,000th farm preserved

Michael Yoder//January 24, 2020

Hunter Hess of Warwick Township receives a commemorative plaque from members of the Lancaster County Agricultural Preserve Board to honor his land being the 1,000th property preserved in the county. (Photo: Michael Yoder)

Lancaster County has long been known as the Garden Spot of America, but four decades ago it was becoming clear to local leaders that without a plan, the pristine farmland could disappear forever to development.

So in 1980, Lancaster’s county commissioners appointed a nine-member Agricultural Preserve Board to come up with ways to protect farms, and three years later the board had created a purchase of development rights program to preserve land for farming. That program became the blueprint for agriculture preserve boards around the country, and the county was well on its way to preserving hundreds of farms and thousands of acres of farmland.

On Friday, members of the Agricultural Preserve Board were joined by government officials, local business leaders and farmers at Rock Lititz in Warwick Township to celebrate the 1,000th farm preserved in the county since the program was initiated. The celebration also marked the 3,000th acre of farmland preserved in Warwick Township, the most of any township in the county.

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding honored the board and it’s work in preserving the farming traditions in Lancaster County, which ranks No. 1 in the country for farmland preservation by acreage. He also paid tribute to the farm owners who take the step to put the land into preservation efforts so that it could be farmed by future generations.

“What we have in Pennsylvania in terms of farmland preservation began in Lancaster County,” Redding said. “There’s a reason that our state program was modeled after Lancaster County. The years of advanced thinking about how to preserve what was here in Lancaster County is embedded in our state program.”

The preservation program works by landowners applying to sell development rights to the Preserve Board, which then ranks the applications for priority, hires appraisers to estimate the value of development rights and makes a formal offer to the landowner. The landowners who sell their development rights must maintain the land in farming.

The honor of the 1,000th farm preserved ended up going to Hunter Hess and his 49-acre piece of land on Becker Road in Warwick Township. Hess received a carved wooden commemorative plaque to commemorate the preservation deal.

Hess, whose family created Hess Brother’s Fruit Co. of Manheim Township and whose grandparents owned the farm before him, said it was on that land where he learned the values of hard work. He said his grandfather, Art, was a true farmer who took great pride in his land.

“Art loved to talk about rain, talk about sunshine, talk about corn yields talk about beef prices,” Hess said. “It was his passion, his joy, his everything. So ultimately we recognized the best way to honor him would be to preserve the farm so that even if some day the farm leaves the hands of the Hess’s. That it would continue to be a farm forever and ever.”

A major player in helping to provide the transfer of development rights funding for the 1,000th land preservation was the multi-million dollar addition to the Rock Lititz campus scheduled to begin this year. More than 50 companies are expected to be operating on the campus by next year.

Andrea Shirk, general manager of Rock Lititz, said she was grateful for the relationships that have been built between the businesses at the campus and the officials from Warwick Township who have recognized the needed balance between economic activity and the preservation of agriculture.

“Warwick Township worked really closely with us as a business to recognize that there was an economic impact and we wanted to create jobs,” Shirk said. “We needed the land to do that, but if you don’t manage that, that can come at a cost. So I really respect that they manage that strategically to make sure that while you’re balancing that economic growth, you’re also looking at how you do that in a way that’s respectful to the agricultural community that invests in you natural resources.”