Lancaster County knows fresh food. It’s impossible to drive through rural Lancaster County in the summer without passing at least one roadside farm stand. Small wooden tables and makeshift sheds display local fruits, vegetables, honey, flowers, or root beer.
Our county’s 5,650 farm families provide fresh, local food for Lancaster residents, and Americans across the United States. Locals are proud to say “I’m from Lancaster County.” It’s no wonder why so many choose to make Lancaster County their home. Or their home away from home.
In fact, the quality of life and beauty of the county is also its biggest threat. According to the Lancaster County Planning Commission, we are building more homes than other counties in the region. Lancaster County’s housing unit growth of 16.4% from 2000-2015 is much greater than the state’s rate of 7.8%. Lancaster’s population continues to grow at a rate nearly three times the state average.
Let’s talk values. Lancaster County has them, in more ways than one.
Lancaster County farms boast some of the richest, most productive, non-irrigated agricultural soils in the world! More than 425,000 acres of them, in fact. The fields and pastures which make up these farms are a valuable natural resource. They serve more than ears of corn and cows. They also protect watersheds, recharge groundwater, and control flooding. Open farm fields improve air quality and provide food and cover for wildlife.
Our community values the land, and our County’s heritage rooted in agriculture. That’s how Lancaster County Agriculture Preserve Board and Lancaster Farmland Trust have preserved 25% of the county’s working lands. But, that means 75% of them are still unprotected and at risk of being developed.
acres of preserved farmland in the county
acres of forested woodlands preserved by Lancaster Farmland Trust
Sherron Thiry, LFT Volunteer
Once our precious farmland is paved over, we can never get it back. That’s why it’s so critical to preserve the valuable acres we have left.
Every year prime Lancaster County farmland is lost to shopping malls, business complexes, and housing developments. Lancaster Farmland Trust is dedicated to helping both Plain Sect (Amish and Mennonite) and English farmers preserve their farms and way of life for future generations.
What does your Lancaster County look like? Does it look the same as when you grew up here, or moved here, or vacationed here?
Our Lancaster County is changing every day — in big ways. Some of these ways are good for our community and our economy and others threaten the very fabric of our extraordinary quality of life.
What you fondly remember about our community may no longer be available to enjoy for future generations. If we don’t take action now, we may lose this land forever.
We preserve farms through a formal and binding document called a “conservation easement.” This type of easement permanently limits uses of the land — in this case it’s limited to agricultural uses. We maintain these easements in perpetuity, across property owners, and uphold the original landowners desire to keep the farm available for agriculture.
A preserved farm doesn’t necessarily look any different than a farm that is not preserved. The land still grows crops, feeds animals, and supplies fresh, local produce. The difference is the assurance that a preserved farm can continue to provide those things, forever. By preserving farms, the land remains open and the landowner can continue to own and farm their land. Landowners may sell or pass on their land to heirs at any time.
Finding farmers who are interested in preserving their farms isn’t hard around here. We have had a waiting list of farmers since 2014 – today, that list holds more than 50 names.
Word of mouth is our best marketing tool. Farmers who have worked with us talk to their neighbors, who then call us. We also make it a point of being involved in the local agriculture community by participating in summer field days and winter farmer meetings.
We believe it’s critical that a landowner understand fully the process of preservation, and it’s long-term implications for their farm. At the first meeting with a landowner, we explain the terms of a standard easement and discuss the landowner’s short- and long-term goals for the farm. We want the landowner to understand what preserving their farm will mean. If the landowner still wants to move forward, the farm moves through a formal review process that ultimately needs to be voted on by our Board of Trustees.
Before preserving any farm, Lancaster Farmland Trust takes several due diligence steps. We provide a final draft of the easement to our legal counsel and to the landowner for their review. Staff encourages the landowner to seek their own legal counsel for review of the document and to seek advice from a tax advisor or financial planner.
We review the existing legal description of the property deed and determine whether a property boundary survey is necessary. If it is, Lancaster Farmland Trust will hire a surveyor. This legal description or survey assists Lancaster Farmland Trust staff when creating a “Baseline Documentation” of the farm. We conduct a title search of the property to determine if there are any liens or other concerns before preserving.
The most exciting part of the process is the settlement meeting. Our staff meets with the farmer, typically in their home, to sign the conservation easement – this is the last step to permanently preserve the farm.
Interested in preserving your farm?
Amos Funk, now known as "the father of farmland preservation" led Lancaster County's efforts to preserve farmland.
Signing a conservation easement is only the beginning of our relationship with a landowner.
The landowner’s signature, and Lancaster Farmland Trust’s signature, represents a commitment to work together forever. Conservation easements are legally bound to the property — which means they last across generations and landowners.
Once the farm is formally preserved, LFT keeps in touch with the landowner a few times a year through informational mailings, phone calls, and a once annual on-farm visit. If the landowner chooses to sell their farm, LFT is usually involved in the sale so the new owners understand what it means to purchase a preserved farm. Our staff then works with the new farm owner to review the easement and build our relationship with the family.
Our staff’s favorite time of year includes visits to our farms to touch base, answer questions, and check out the property. With 500 preserved farms under our belt, it’s important to keep our records up to date. A lot can happen in a year, and annual visits make sure we are supporting our farmers long after the ink dries on their easement.
The Amos Funk Stewardship Fund provides resources for the long-term monitoring and enforcement of the landowner’s conservation easement. Much of Lancaster Farmland Trust’s daily activities include monitoring farms, answering questions regarding constructing new improvements, executing a permitted subdivision, educating new owners of preserved properties, and preventing or resolving easement violations.
Lancaster Farmland Trust maintains this fund to ensure we can protect our promise to our landowners, and to our community. Upholding our easements is a legal commitment, as well as a moral obligation.