The Centre County Agricultural Land Preservation Board and Centre County Board of Commissioners recognized the owners of three Ferguson Township farms at the Commissioners' Tuesday, September 23 meeting: Elwin Stewart and Barbara Christ, owners of Happy Valley Vineyard and Winery; Clay and John Campbell, who own a 181-acre dairy and crop farm; and Tobi and Jamie Ripka, owners of a 108-acre crop farm. All three are participating in the Centre County Purchase of Agricultural Easement Program -- now in its 25th year -- which supports the preservation of farmland. In cooperation with Centre County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Township recently closed on Agricultural Conservation Easements for their farms--for a total of 316.02 acres.
The Board of Commissioners also recognized William Keough, former Ferguson Township Supervisor, who has chaired the Agricultural Land Preservation Board since it was created in 1989, and is stepping down from that role.
One of the many assets Ferguson Township is committed to preserving is its agricultural heritage. Our Township is home to numerous farms run by hard working families who want to keep farming generation after generation.
The Agricultural Conservation Easements acquire the development rights to these agricultural properties. Through the Agricultural Conservation Easement program, the property owners continue normal agricultural activities and still own their properties.
Each farm is located in an Agricultural Security Area (ASA). A 1981 Pennsylvania law established ASAs to help families who want to continue farming preserve their land and farming operations.
Landowners can enroll their property in an ASA. The benefits to ASA-protected farms are numerous: These farm operations and property are exempt from nuisance ordinances such as noise and odor, as well as protected from acquisition of the land by government agencies to construct new roadways (although the roadways can be widened).
By applying for an Agricultural Conservation Easement, farm owners can also sell their development rights.
Ferguson Township contributed $47,403 to help purchase the Agricultural Conservation Easements to these three farms. "The Township contributes $150 an acre towards the agricultural conservation easement purchase price," said Ferguson Township Mark Kunkle, "and appropriates $15,000 annually in our budget to be prepared any time a Township farm is being considered for an Agricultural Conservation Easement. As such, we now have 20 properties in Ferguson Township with agricultural conservation easements on them. Our Township is one of the few municipalities in Centre County that participates financially in this program."
To give you an idea of how agriculturally rich Ferguson Township is, of the Township's 33,000 acres of land, more than 16,000 acres are Agricultural Security Area. Take a look at this map of Preserved Farmland in Centre County and you can see that the largest concentration of ASA, PACE applications and purchased development rights is in Ferguson Township. Agricultural Conservation Easements have been purchased on 39 farms in Centre County, where 89,000 acres are in an ASA. Ferguson Township's share of that acreage is 18.3 percent.
Farm owners apply for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program through the Centre County Agricultural Land Preservation Board and are evaluated on a point system that includes criteria such as their proximity to other Agricultural Conservation Easement properties. All must be designated ASAs. In addition, their development market value, versus their agricultural value, determines their eligibility.
"The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program makes a great partner to the agricultural zoning and historical nature of the Township," Kunkle said. "The Township’s participation in the program goes hand in hand with agricultural zoning."
For More Information
Agricultural Security Areas
Created by a Pennsylvania law adopted in 1981, ASAs promote farming as a permanent investment in the community. Participating farmers agree to place at least 250 acres in an ASA, providing a secure place in which to continue farming for years to come. Learn more about the history and purpose of Agricultural Security Areas
Preserving Pennsylvania farmland is a cause that many recognize as essential to preserving our state's cultural identity as well as its economy. Supporting farmers in their work and preserving the pastoral beauty of our state is key to our quality of life. Learn more about why it's important to preserve agriculture in Centre County