The small farm has a special place in our national consciousness.  For some, farming is a noble, even spiritual undertaking.  The scrappy small farmer is a symbol of American perseverance.

But family farming has long been in decline.  Most of us know agriculture in the abstract.  I was not raised on a farm but like most people I appreciate rural life, at least on a superficial level.  The beautiful views, the fresh country air.

We’re also vaguely aware that our grocery-store milk and bacon come from someplace both picturesque and ugly, on the occasions we stop to think about it.

lancaster county farm preservation

Lancaster County, the "city of farms"

Farms remain front-and-center in heavily-populated Lancaster County, though, where the issue of farm preservation flares up often.  A Lancaster Online article describes conflict over a planned quarry expansion (linked on the Amish America Facebook page).  The issue is on tap tonight at an Upper Leacock township meeting.

The Talmage-area quarry, at 92 years old, was founded in the early 1920s, a time when the area wasn’t nearly so thick with Plain farms.  Local opponents, including Amish, want to block the expansion.

Amish+farms=national treasures?

On the one hand, Lancaster farms are pretty important.  There’s more economic value than just what can be grown on a Lancaster farm’s acres.  I do not think the county would see 10% of the tourism if all the farms disappeared tomorrow and with them the Amish.  Not to mention the effect on property values.

There is also emotional value.  On the Amish America Facebook page, Beverly writes that Amish and their farms are seen as “national treasures” in her home state of Utah, a view that I think would get a lot of sympathy.  Lancaster County, the oldest, best-known, most-visited, and perhaps most picturesque Amish settlement, is especially revered.

In approving the request, Lancaster planners wrote that expansion is “the most efficient use of land”, a statement whose logic seems cold by comparison.  They also imply that a quarry might be opened elsewhere if this one is not expanded.

The owners also say that expanding the quarry would create 14 new jobs, and would only increase area traffic by 1%.  They also claim it would enable the business to stay open another 100 years (it’s got about 5 years left under present conditions).

Making things even more interesting, four Amish farmers have agreed to sell the quarry the land they wish to use to expand.  So we have Amish on both sides of the issue.

Preservation questions

This issue brings to mind a lot of questions.  Curious to hear what you think.

How much should be done to protect farmland?

Are the Amish who wish to sell betraying their community?

Are some farms more worth saving than others?

How much say should government or organizations have in how private land is used?

Photo credit: Mike of Primitive Christianity

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