Ag leaders plant the seeds for the future of farming in Chester County
By Steven Hoffman
Brian Leary, the executive director of the Chester County Planning Commission, discussed the efforts to plan for the future of agriculture in the county at the annual Spring Banquet of the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau on March 10.
A large crowd of more than 130 people, including state legislators and county officials, attended the event at the Chester County Intermediate Unit’s Brandywine campus. Dignitaries at the Spring Banquet included State Senators Andy Dinniman and Lloyd Smuckler, State Representatives John Lawrence and Tim Hennessey, and a host of others.
Leary talked about some of the current trends in agriculture, starting with the fact that there is a continued consumer interest in where food comes from.
“People want to know about their food,” Leary explained, noting that millennials, in particular, want to feel a connection to their food. “Chester County has a competitive advantage because so many farmers are close to the consumers.”
Farmers may be benefiting from technological advances, and the world's population is increasing so there is a growing demand for food, but farmers face many challenges, too. There are more regulations than ever being placed on farmers, which is a threat to the agriculture industry. Climate change is presenting challenges, too, with more flooding and higher temperatures impacting how farmers do their work.
Leary, who previously worked in planning with Montgomery County, said that Chester County has always been respected for its open space and farmland preservation efforts. Chester County has a goal of preserving 30 percent of its farmland by 2019, and the county’s overall agricultural production ranks second in the entire state.
Officials are currently working on an update to the county’s comprehensive plan, and Leary said that they will want to reach out to stakeholders to get their input about how to plan for the future of agriculture. He went on to explain that agriculture plays a significant part in the quality of life that residents enjoy. With so much residential growth expected in the county, it’s important to plan for the growth carefully so that the open space and farmland is protected.
The Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau matches its large membership with a significant amount of activity.
Dan Miller, the president of the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau, said that the organization was working with the local Grange to schedule a legislative meeting with locally elected officials so that they can learn about issues that might affect them in the future, and offer insights to lawmakers who will be making decisions on legislation.
Miller also talked about the work that the Pa. Lyme Disease Awareness Committee is doing, and how important it is to get the word out about Lyme Disease.
“It's an extremely important issue to those of us who are working on the land,” he said.
Howard Robinson, who represents District 3 on the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Board, offered his membership report for the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau.
“This has been a great membership year—the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau has almost 8,000 members. We are the number-one county for memberships in Pennsylvania,” Robinson said.
Robinson went on to explain that the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau met its membership goal on Feb. 17, the only Farm Bureau in the region to reach its goal. Because the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau reached its membership goal, Robinson explained, it will receive a check for $890 from the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. The money will be used for scholarships and supporting the 4-H and Future Farmers of America programs in schools. There are other benefits for reaching the goal as well.
Ethan Howard, the Regional Organization Director, lauded the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau's work signing up new members and planning activities.
“As a board, they are the most organized, they are hard-working, and they are membership-driven,” Howard said. “It's absolutely, positively amazing.”
Howard explained that the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau does so well with its efforts to attract new members that he, as the Regional Organization Director, does not have to get involved with the membership campaigns, as he does with the other Farm Bureau chapters.
“That's a pretty standard practice with the other counties,” he said.
More information about the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau, including how to become a member, can be found on the organization's Facebook page.