Harrisburg, PA – The Wolf Administration and the Department of Agriculture today recognized the director and staff at the Bureau of Farmland Preservation for continuing their work while overcoming telework obstacles.
Throughout the pandemic, counties have furloughed staff or had them work from home and there were delays in title reports and legal work. Despite these challenges, the bureau worked with counties and professionals to keep the Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Program moving at its normal pace.
“The small, dedicated staff at the Bureau of Farmland Preservation has a big role in food security,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “The pandemic has highlighted the critical mission of land preservation: to ensure the public has access to nutritious food and that Pennsylvania has the land to support the growth of diverse commodities ranging from mushrooms and poultry to beef and maple syrup. We lose acres of agriculture land to development every year, but our global population continues to grow. A robust agriculture industry can’t happen without land. That is why I am so pleased that this team has not missed a beat while teleworking.”
The bureau is comprised of Director Douglas Wolfgang and five staff: Stephanie Zimmerman, Dawn Patrick, April Orwig, Andrea Reiner and Ian Mahal.
The bureau has preserved 106 farms and prepared 32 more farms for preservation, which are expected to be approved at the December meeting of the State Agricultural Land Preservation Board. That will bring the total to 138 preserved farms since March.
The bureau works with 58 county boards amounting to around 400 board members who administer the Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Program locally. County boards may be made up of county commissioners, the conservation district, planning office or independent staff.
The Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Program is in its 32nd year. Through the program, Pennsylvania buys an easement deed restriction on a farm. The farm owners voluntarily sell the right to use the land for anything other than farming. If the land is sold, the easement stays with it, assuring it will be farmland forever. Like any other real estate transaction, the land’s background must be thoroughly vetted. Once paperwork is done, the 17-member State Agricultural Land Preservation Board reviews and approves a farm for preservation. The board has met just three times since March.
Wolfgang is focused on continuing the bureau’s mission.
“It’s so critical we talk about climate change as well,” Wolfgang said. “Our farms are not irrigated like they are in other parts of the world. Pennsylvania has some of the most productive farmland in the nation. That makes it even more important to preserve land here.”
“The investment we’ve made in preserving farms tops $1.6 billion over the last 32 years,” Wolfgang said. “We have roughly 1,400 farms awaiting funding. We are approaching a milestone 6,000 farms preserved, probably next year.”
MEDIA CONTACTS: Shannon Powers, Agriculture, 717.783.2628
Dan Egan, OA, 717.772.4237