NEW YORK, NY – May 24, 2013 – To date, OSI’s Bayshore-Highlands Land Protection Fund has
helped conservation organizations protect more than 2,000 acres throughout the
New Jersey Bayshore and the Pennsylvania Highlands. One of the most fertile
pockets within the 900-square-mile Highlands region sits along the eastern half
of Lancaster County, PA, where OSI has developed a relationship with the
Lancaster Farmland Trust (LFT), a uniquely positioned force for conservation in
LFT is a 25-year-old accredited land trust whose involvement in farmland preservation in Lancaster County is essential due to the heavy concentration of Amish farmers in the county. Of the 412 farms in Lancaster County that have been permanently preserved by LFT, approximately 80 percent of them are Amish, which accounts for some 25,500 acres.
For religious and cultural reasons, the Amish typically choose not to work with government agencies or to accept funding from government programs such as a county-sponsored agricultural preservation program. Therefore, LFT was founded in 1988 as a private complement designed to serve constituencies that the county could not reach.
“The Amish lifestyle presents some interesting challenges in
terms of (the lack of) internet and phones, but other than that the biggest
challenge has simply been to develop the relationships,” said Karen Martynick, LFT’s executive director.
“It took quite a bit of time before the community embraced us, and it really
was a result of the early Amish farmers going out in the community and helping
us with outreach. With their help it’s been remarkably successful.”
Working hand in
hand, LFT and the county’s Agricultural Preserve Board are expected to total
100,000 acres of protected farmland by the end of 2013. When they reach the
mark, Lancaster will be the first county in the country to have protected that
“It’s a great
partnership, and I really think it’s a model for how other organizations can
partner with government agencies,” Martynick said.
OSI’s work with the
Lancaster Farmland Trust began with the Bayshore-Highlands Fund, which was
launched with the generous support of the William Penn Foundation in 2011.
Since then, OSI, which itself has a long history of preserving agricultural
lands, has focused on helping LFT protect 11 farms in the Pennsylvania
An initial cluster
of five protected farms were part of a unique loan/grant agreement with OSI that
ultimately afforded LFT and other local organizations greater access to county
conservation funds. The Pennsylvania Association of Land Trusts is showcasing
the agreement, which leveraged OSI’s dollars and matched them with additional
funding from other sources, as a case study in an upcoming guide entitled Land Trust Bridge
Loans: Loan Financing for Conservation Transactions.
“We were able to
help increase momentum in the region,” said Bill Rawlyk, OSI’s Middle Atlantic
field coordinator, “and our support allowed other conservation groups to devote
the scarce county funds that they acquired to other farms. They were able to
protect more land in a shorter time.”
LFT also works in an
area with tremendous historic watershed pollution issues arising from
agriculture and stormwater. This is especially important now because the
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection
Agency have begun mandating increased nutrient and sediment runoff control from
farms to keep pollutants from entering the Chesapeake Bay. Although the
Highlands represent a relatively small part of Lancaster County, much of it
drains into the Conewago watershed, which flows into the Susquehanna River and
on into the Chesapeake Bay.
“Most of the
Lancaster County is flat farmland, but the Highlands are mixed with forested
areas, significant natural resources and farmlands,” Martynick said. “The
interaction between these ecosystems is extremely important. Although the area
is small and doesn’t contain a tremendous amount of farmland, protecting the
farmland in the stream headwater areas and the forests at the top of the
watershed is extremely important for the overall ecosystem.”
It is that
aggregation of scenic values, good conservation practices and watershed
protection that the William Penn Foundation envisioned when it selected OSI to administer
the Bayshore-Highlands Fund. By OSI establishing its relationship with LFT, the
organizations have been able to target the farms most important for water
quality—in Lancaster County and beyond—and to enable conservation to continue
in the traditional Amish communities where existing government farmland
programs are not being utilized.
“The Lancaster Farmland Trust has been one of the most effective conservation agencies in the Highlands region for a quarter-century,” said Peter Howell, OSI's executive vice president. “Their work together with Lancaster County to protect nearly 100,000 acres of farmland as well as their willingness to take on creative loan ventures with the Open Space Institute are just two reasons why they are considered by their peers to be a leader in agricultural preservation.”