County pre­serves its 500th farm

Al­most 40,000 agri­cul­tural acres have been pre­served

The Phoenix - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han @21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com

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.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Ger­ald and Cindy Rohrer are the own­ers of the 500th farm pre­served by the Ch­ester County open space pro­gram.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

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.

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