County preserves its 500th farm
Almost 40,000 agricultural acres have been preserved
Chester County officials have signed contracts for the preservation of its 500th farm, bringing the total number of agricultural acres preserved in the county to just under 40,000, the county announced recently.
The farm that now serves as a milestone in the program that has helped both the farming community and the county at large is owned by a couple who value that community and what it means to the fabric of the county’s economic and cultural health.
The 109-acre farm, owned by Gerald and Cindy Rohrer, is located in Upper Oxford and West Fallowfield Townships. It has been a family farm since 1966 when Gerald’s parents took it on as dairy farm.
Over the years the farm changed to raising heifers before moving to crop farming. Gerald, the youngest of five children, and Cindy took over the farm in 2001 and today, the Rohrers grow corn for livestock consumption, hay for the equine industry and mulch hay for the mushroom industry. The family also runs a small sideline business of trucking for agriculture haulage.
“We were very happy and surprised that we fit the criteria” for inclusion in the county Agricultural Preservation Grant Program, said Cindy Rohrer in an interview from her home. “We’re very thankful and feel very blessed.”
The Rohrer’s had heard of the preservations grants that are available from the county for years, but only recently made the decision to apply for the program. Those who are accepted are given a grant in exchange for a deed restriction which promises that the land will remain in agricultural use indefinitely.
“It feels good to us to know that the farm will stay in agriculture
of some sort forever,” Cindy Rohrer said. “We are glad that it will stay open and green and growing things, which is what the land is designed to do.”
“Chester County has been actively investing in open space for nearly 30 years, and that decision is now paying dividends in ways that I believe the original county commissioners who started the program would not have thought possible,” said commissioners’ Chairwoman Michelle Kichline.
“The value of our preserved farms, parks, conservancies and trails go beyond ‘attractive’ to increasing property values, attracting businesses, creating jobs and benefiting our health. I thank the Rohrers for recognizing this and entering into a preservation partnership with the county,” she said in a news release.
The three commissioners — Kichline, Vice Chairwoman Kathi Cozzone, and Commissioner Terence Farrell, recently visited the farm on the county’s western edge.
Said Cozzone, “Agriculture is Chester County’s leading industry and our farm preservation programs help keep it that way, ensuring that our natural and historical resources are protected and that we can continue to supply local fresh food.
“The Rohrer’s farm is a great example of this – a farm that raises crops that, in turn, support two key agricultural sectors that Chester County is well known for – equine and mushroom farming,” she added.
Farrell noted: “Nearly 30 years ago, with the backing of its citizens, Chester County created and funded one of the most comprehensive and sustained efforts in the nation to preserve open space. It has helped to define Chester County’s high quality of life, and we, as the current Board of Commissioners, are pleased to continue these preservation efforts as an intrinsic part of our plan for current and future growth.”
In total, more than 136,000 acres – 28 percent – of land in Chester County has been preserved since the beginning of its open space preservation program in 1989.
Chester County’s Agricultural Preservation program began in 1989 when the resolution was adopted. The first farm was preserved in Newlin in 1990, and over the years, the county has contributed more than $106 million towards farmland preservation.
Farm preservation in Chester County is based on an agricultural conservation easement. Farms that are 10 acres or more are eligible if they are adjacent to permanently preserved land. Farms not adjacent to permanently preserved land must be a minimum of 50 acres for the Commonwealth/County program and 25 acres in size for the Municipal Challenge Grant program.
Commenting on their decision to formally preserve the farm, Gerald Rohrer said: “I grew up on this farm and believe that it is very important to keep it as a farm. The highest and best use of this land is for farming, with good soils that support the growth of crops.”
Farming has been a part of the county since its founding in the 1600s, but has slowly given way to other economies, and is now mostly known as a suburban high-tech juggernaut. Asked what others in the community should know about farming in the county, Cindy Rohrer answered, “That we’re here.
“The farm community in the western part of the county is pretty strong, and active,” she said. “We try to be good neighbors and to work together. And we help the local economy — we buy local and we sell local. It is part of what we do to help the Chester County economy going strong.”
The preservation program, she said, had helped the farm economy remain a part of the county’s culture. “It makes sense,” she said.
The Rohrer’s farm dates back to the late 18th century, Cindy Rohrer believes, with a stone barn and stone part of the family home. The 49-year-old couple have three children — daughter Sonya, who works at a family-owned market in Lancaster County, son Brock who expects to attend college this year after a mission gap year, and son Drake who is a high school student at Lancaster Mennonite School.
Chester County farm owners are encouraged to review the eligibility requirements for preservation which can be found at http://www.chesco. org/1368/Farm-ProgramsOverview.
The deadline for applications is Aug. 1 of each year.
Gerald and Cindy Rohrer are the owners of the 500th farm preserved by the Chester County open space program.
The Chester County commissioners recently visited the county’s 500th preserved farm. From left to right are: Commissioner Terence Farrell; Commissioner Michelle Kichline; farm owner Gerald Rohrer; Commissioner Kathi Cozzone; and Cindy Rohrer.