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Program accepting applications for farmers who want land preserved

By David Bernard, Staff Writer                                                                                        

July 12, 2004

Don Cairns grew up on a Chester County farm. Seven years ago, he bought a farm of his own, 100 acres in Sadsbury, where he’s raised grain and chickens.

In Cairns’ view, the farming life is not only important to him, but also to the community and the county he farms in.

"I kind of see this as a high-visibility farm," he said, describing its location near the intersection of routes 10 and 30. "If this farm stays a farm, it helps the whole neighborhood."

That’s why he and his family entered the land into Chester County’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program in 2002.

"We wanted to preserve our farm as a farm, and it turned out we were able to do that," Cairns said. "The program is absolutely critical to the future of the farm in Chester County. Important not just for farmers, but for everybody."

The voluntary program, jointly run by the county’s Agricultural Land Preservation Board and Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture, purchases land development rights in order to permanently preserve the county’s working farms.

"Our program is to preserve farm land, not just open space," said Kevin Baer, the program’s county coordinator. "Among our board, the primary focus is on preserving the agricultural industry and the base for that industry."

Since its inception, the program has preserved 175 farms totaling 17,500 acres and generated significant interest among county farmers.

"That’s paramount," Baer said. "The interest is as important to us as the dollars that are allocated to us (from state and county budgets). We’re lucky to have farmers in this area who see the merits of the program."

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program is open to county landowners with farms of at least 50 acres that are located in an agricultural security area. Landowners with smaller farms of at least 10 acres may also apply if their farms are adjacent to preserved farms.

Landowners who aren’t sure whether their farm is in an agricultural security area should contact their township office to find out.

The program evaluates and ranks applying farms by four factors: soil quality, proximity to other agricultural resources, the land’s potential for agricultural production and the land’s potential for development.

The program can be a competitive one, said Cairns, who had to apply twice before his farm was selected. He advised interested landowners to confer with those whose farms had been accepted into the program in order to better prepare their applications.

To obtain an application for the program, landowners can call the Agricultural Land Preservation Board’s offices (at the Chester County Planning Commission) at 610-344-6285.

The deadline for this year’s applications is Sept. 1.

Baer pointed out more than one financial incentive for entering a farm into permanent agricultural easement -- allowing farmers to tap the equity in their property while they continue farming, increasing the estate value of the land and providing a tax deduction -- but Cairns noted another reason even closer to home.

"There’s definitely an emotional component to it," Cairns said. "I agree that there’s financial incentives, but also, I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing houses built on our farm.

"I think it’s a tremendously important program," he said. "If too many farms are lost to development, then farming is finished in Chester County."

İDaily Local News 2004

Reader Opinions: 

Name: Lem Mason

Date: Jul, 12 2004

Isn't it wonderful the Mr. Cairns has the option of sparing his own property from the rape of development but as a member of Sadsbury's laughable Feasibility Committee, he voted in favor of high density. Shameful.


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