Cumberland County is working with a land trust in Lancaster County to enhance local farmland preservation efforts through a public/private partnership.
The Lancaster Farmland Trust recently received a $50,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to conduct a needs assessment in Cumberland County, said Stephanie Williams, administrator of the Cumberland County farmland preservation program.
The trust has experience working with Amish and Mennonite farmers, Williams said. “They generally don’t want to work with the government in Cumberland County.
“There is a fairly strong population of plain sect farmers in certain parts of the county,” she said. Most are located in the Newville, Newburg and Shippensburg area.
There is an opportunity for Cumberland County to enhance its program by having the plain sect farmers here work through the Lancaster Farmland Trust, Williams said.
Each year the seven-member Agricultural Land Preservation Board ranks farms for the county program based on soil quality, proximity to other preserved farms, agricultural potential and development potential.
A partnership with the trust would allow farmers who have not met the county ranking criteria the option to seek farmland preservation through a different channel, Williams said. She cited as examples farms with shale soils or a small farm that fills in a gap near a cluster of already preserved farms.
“The terms of our [conservation] easement are what they are – We don’t have any flexibility,” Williams said. A partnership with the farmland trust could allow for greater flexibility on land use to farmers.
The $50,000 grant will be used to assess whether the donor base exists in Cumberland County to support a public/private partnership with the Trust, Williams said. She added the county will schedule meetings with local farmers to determine what if any barriers exist.