Pennsylvania contains broad swaths of productive agricultural land. This land produces food that is consumed across the commonwealth and the entire nation, and supports an industry responsible for over 500,000 jobs. Renewed investments in Growing Greener would preserve this important farmland, while empowering farmers to ensure its continued stewardship.
The Threat of Development
Between 1982 and 2012, nearly a million acres of Pennsylvania farmland were lost to development. This loss is permanent. Once farms are razed by bulldozers and paved over with asphalt, they forever forfeit their potential as fertile crop and grazing lands. U.S Census data indicates that metropolitan areas are expanding, while rural populations decline. As these trends continue, more productive farmland is threatened.
Collapse of Rural Economies
Despite how they may appear, farms are not isolated. Rather, they are anchors of stability for nearby farms, businesses, and other human endeavors surrounding them. When a farm is developed, the negative consequences ripple outward through the surrounding community. The loss of a farm is the loss of something greater—an essential piece in a shrinking web of neighboring farms and local businesses that rely upon each other. As more farmland is permanently lost, the connections within local economies continue to fray. One by one, communities are transformed. Ultimately, the entire farm economy is endangered by this piecemeal dismantling.
Food Security, National Security
The development of Pennsylvania’s productive farmlands, especially in the regions near major eastern population centers, significantly reduces access to locally-grown food and forces consumers to rely on products imported from distant sources. A centralized food production system that depends upon complex global trade networks is vulnerable to disruptive events like droughts, political upheaval, and economic turmoil that cause food supplies and prices to fluctuate unpredictably. In short, an America that depends on other nations for its sustenance is not secure.
Environmental Consequences of Development
When managed using sustainable methods, farms benefit the environment. They provide habitat for various species of wildlife, channel precipitation into groundwater reserves, and build healthy soils that produce food while sequestering carbon. As links in local food systems, they reduce the carbon footprint of food production and delivery. When sustainable farms are replaced by commercial and residential developments, these benefits are lost. Wildlife populations are disrupted, stormwater runoff from impervious sources causes flooding and carries pollutants into waterways, and fertile soils are permanently destroyed.
GROWING GREENER ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Agriculture Conservation Easement Purchase Program
Growing Greener has helped county farm preservation boards, in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PADA), protect half a million acres of productive farmland through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program (ACEP) since it began in 1989. The ACEP has conserved 5,000 family farms, making Pennsylvania a national leader in farmland preservation.
One of these farms is Quarry Hill Farm, an 89-acre property in Montgomery County that was preserved only weeks before it was scheduled to be bulldozed. The county farmland preservation program, with the help of Growing Greener funding, made it possible for a couple to purchase the land and prevent the development from occurring. What could have been a subdivision is now a thriving farm with orchards and livestock owned by a couple who are committed to strengthening local, sustainable farming.
THE POTENTIAL OF GROWING GREENER
Preserving Even More Farmland
Renewed Growing Greener investments would allow Pennsylvania to continue and enhance its legacy of farmland preservation. Despite the success of the ACEP, there are still 1,500 farms on county backlog lists, with an estimated cost of $458 million. Growing Greener funding would enable PADA to protect more of these farms through the ACEP, while expanding the scope of conservation by offering grants to private land trust organizations. These groups are often able to preserve farms that are ineligible for government funding, and they facilitate transactions with landowners reluctant to participate in government programs.
Agriculture Conservation Excellence Program
Growing Greener investments would help establish the Agricultural Conservation Excellence Program (ACE), a new initiative designed to protect Pennsylvania’s environmental resources. A joint effort of PADA and the State Conservation Commission, the program would provide financial and technical assistance to county conservation districts while helping farmers implement Best Management Practices to improve the quality of their soil, water, and air. Under the Resource Enhancement and Protection Program, farmers would be eligible to earn tax credits for participating.
Encouraging New Farmers
The average age of the Pennsylvania farmer is 56; as farms transition to new owners, cultivating the next generation of farmers is necessary to sustain food production and maintain the commonwealth’s rich agricultural heritage. Growing Greener would support efforts to encourage new farmers to enter the industry, like the Preserved Farmland Incentive Program. Designed to address land access issues, which are often the biggest obstacle facing new farmers, this program would incentivize a young, skilled workforce to invest in preserved farmland through subsidized interest on fixed loans. Investment in this program could help hundreds of young farmers purchase their own land and reinvigorate farming communities across Pennsylvania.