County preserves 500th farm
By Steven Hoffman
Chester County signed contracts on the preservation of its 500th farm last week, bringing the total number of farm acres preserved in the county to just under 40,000. 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.
The 109-acre farm, owned by Gerald and Cindy Rohrer, is 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.
“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’ Chair 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.”
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.”
Cindy Rohrer added, “When we found out that our farm was eligible for the preservation program, and that we could be part of the effort to contribute to the county’s open space numbers by preserving it, we knew we couldn’t pass it up.”
Chester County’s Agricultural Preservation program began in 1989, when the resolution was adopted. The first farm was preserved in Newlin Township in 1990, and over the years, the county has contributed more than $106 million towards farmland preservation.
Commissioner Kathi Cozzone said, “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 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.”
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.
Commissioner Terence Farrell said, “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.”
Chester County farm owners are encouraged to review the eligibility requirements for preservation, which can be found at www.chesco.org/1368/Farm-Programs-Overview. The deadline for applications is Aug. 1 of each year.