Groups band together to preserve local farmland
By Patricia Lowry,
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Farmer Ron Beinlich, who grows berries, peaches, pumpkins and other fruits and vegetables on his Triple B Farms near Monongahela, has been watching family farms disappear all of his life.
“Every farm in Allegheny County is under some development pressure,” he told a nearly full house in the 183-seat Carnegie Museum of Art Theater Saturday morning. They came to hear an overview of local farm preservation efforts from three groups working to keep the bulldozers at bay: Allegheny County Farm Preservation Board, Allegheny Land Trust and Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. They do it by purchasing the development rights of farm land, which are held as easements against the property.
“We have preserved every farm we’ve tried,” Beinlich said of the preservation board, which he helped establish seven years ago. The board, funded by the county and authorized by state law, has preserved nine farms and a total of 1,100 acres in the county. Through the Growing Greener II ballot initiative, which Pennsylvania voters approved last year, $3.6 million in farm preservation money is available to the board this year.
The money will be used to identify farmers interested in preserving agricultural use of their land in perpetuity and to fund the preservation easements. The cost of the easement is equal to the amount of the development value of the property — put another way, it’s the difference between what the farm would sell for as a farm and what it would sell for as land to be developed for housing or non-agricultural commercial use.
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation has purchased easements on farm building facades as well as entire farms, said attorney Martha Jordan, a Landmarks trustee. Jack Miller, Landmarks director of gift planning, said that with the help of a $500,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation grant and $600,000 from Landmarks the organization has preserved more than 13,000 acres of farmland in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties with a collective value of almost $6 million. In Washington County, the Allegheny Land Trust, headed by Roy Kraynyk, has preserved the 103-acre Linder horse farm.
While the museum’s program focused mostly on Allegheny County efforts, almost every Pennsylvania county now has an agricultural land preservation board. And through Growing Greener II, the state protected 37 farms on 3,360 acres last year. The goal is to protect another 2,000 farms over the next six years. Pennsylvania leads the nation in farmland preservation, with a total of 2,783 farms and 318,350 acres saved from development, and with 55 of its 67 counties enrolled in the easement purchase program.
Those efforts seem to have come just in the nick of time, as the Brookings Institution’s 2003 study showed Pennsylvania also is a national leader in sprawl, second only to Wyoming.
The museum program, called “Preserving Western Pennsylvania’s Farms,” was held in conjunction with the Heinz Architectural Center exhibit, “Barns of Western Pennsylvania: Vernacular to Spectacular,” which continues through May 28.
This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette