Pennsylvania contains broad swaths of productive agricultural land. This land supports an industry responsible for over 500,000 jobs, produces food that feeds millions of people, and is a linchpin of rural communities. However, much of this land is threatened by development. Growing Greener investments play a crucial role in preserving farmland throughout the state.
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 500,000 acres of productive farmland through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program (ACEPP) since it began in 1989. The program has conserved over 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 people who are committed to strengthening local, sustainable farming.