Help Needed: Important Farmland Preservation Vote Before Lehigh County Commissioners on Wednesday
Important Farmland Preservation Vote Before Lehigh County Commissioners on Wednesday
by Julie Thomases and Ron Beitler, RenewLV Board Members
An important vote is coming before Lehigh County Commissioners on Wednesday Oct. 14 regarding the funding of farmland preservation. Lehigh County Commissioner Percy Dougherty ( R ), representing District 2 that includes Lower Macungie and Upper Macungie Townships, Macungie and Alburtis, has proposed an amendment to the 2016 budget to allocate $500,000 to a municipal match farmland preservation program. On Wednesday, October 14th, the Lehigh County Commissioners will vote on this proposal. We need you to contact Lehigh County commissioners whom you know and let them know of your support of farmland preservation and this proposal. Also, please attend the meeting on Wed. evening at 7:30 p.m. at the Lehigh County Government Center.
If approved, these funds together with state matching funds, will allow the Country to leverage its $500,000 into more than $2,000,000 for farmland preservation through the purchase of conservation easements. Additionally, townships, townships would be able to participate by leveraging their contributions for a 50% to 130% return.
This proposal and its matching feature is modeled after Northampton’s successful municipal farmland preservation partnership program.
Why is this vote so important? According to the Assessment Report: Lehigh Valley Food Economy, “The biggest challenge facing the Lehigh Valley’s local food economy is the loss of farmland to development.” According to the Census of Agriculture, between 2002 and 2012 the Lehigh and Northampton counties lost 26,785 acres of farmland to development. Lehigh County alone lost 14,973 acres. Additionally, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission in their Profile and Trends report from 2014 projects growth of 146,000 people in the next 20 years, a 22% increase, creating even more pressure to develop farmland. The farms, farmers, and the local food economy are at risk of being destroyed by development.
Living in Pennsylvania, the stories about California’s record drought and the plight of their farmers seem far away, But what happens there affects us here. A significant percentage of the food we eat in the Lehigh Valley comes from California. With California struggling with a massive water crisis, it’s time for the Lehigh Valley to take an important look at farmland preservation – for a very practical reason – it is critical for us to source more of our food closer to home.
The Assessment Report also highlights opportunities for the Lehigh Valley. “The local food economy generates $17 million in economic activity for the Lehigh Valley annually and has the potential to contribute much more. If residents spent just $10/week on locally grown food, nearly $100 million in economic activity would be generated annually, providing jobs, business incubation and expansion, and economic growth for our local farms, businesses and service providers,” (page 1).
The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has a goal of preserving approximately 25% of the land in Lehigh and Northampton County for agriculture. In Lehigh County, 25% equals 55,743 acres. 34,328 acres have already been saved. With current funding levels it won’t happen. In Lehigh County, approximately 375 acres are currently being preserved per year versus between 1000 and 1,500 acres per year being developed. In order to meet LVPC’s 25% goal we need funding increases now.
This is how preservation funding works: The preservation of farmland is accomplished through the purchase of agricultural easements (also known as purchase of development rights) on eligible Lehigh County farm properties. The state matches every local dollar. For example, in 2015 Lehigh County allocated $250,000 to farmland preservation. Subsequently, Lehigh County received a match from the state of $1, 250,000, allowing for a total of $1,509,090 to be directed toward preserving approximately 375 acres of farmland.
Although this is a move in the right direction, with the present rate of development, if we expect to reach the Lehigh Valley Planning Commissions regional goal of preserving 25% of land for agriculture as stated in the region’s comprehensive plan, we must ramp up direct funding for farmland preservation.
We think this is a smart way to do it…leveraging state dollars with county and local dollars.
We may not be facing a crisis on the scale of California’s drought. But unlike a drought, the threats to our local farmland are things we have the power to control. Let’s ensure that the Lehigh Valley is as food self-sufficient as possible.
Farmland Preservation is important to RenewLV; it is one of our four initiatives. We will be keeping a farmland preservation candidate scorecard which we will distribute before the election. But, it’s not only important to us but the entire region. Farmland Preservation is an important driver of farm and food-based businesses and economic development.
The Lehigh County commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Public Hearing Room of the Lehigh County Government Center, 17 South Seventh Street, Allentown, PA,
Parking is available in the Walnut and Church Streets Lot. See you there!