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Centre County recognizes work to save Ferguson Township farmland

Agriculture is the largest industry in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, with almost 8 million acres of farmland across the state.

Centre County has more than 108,000 acres of agricultural land and 1,146 farms, according to centrecountypa.gov.

The Centre County Agricultural Land Preservation Board, along with the Board of Commissioners, celebrated three of those farms Tuesday, and marked the 25th anniversary of the Purchase of the Agriculural Conservation Easement program.

Three farms in Ferguson Township have increased the number of preserved farms in the county under the PACE program to 43 with a total of 6,750 acres.

Those farms are the 27-acre Happy Valley Vineyard and Winery, operated by Elwin Stewart and Barb Christ; a 181-acre dairy and crop farm owned by Clay and John Campbell; and a 108-acre crop farm owned by Tobi and Jamie Ripka.

“We’re excited to be able to preserve the land,” Stewart said. “We’ve really committed ourselves to it, both financially and emotionally.”

Stewart and Christ grow wine grapes on a farm that was established in the 1850s, he said. For 15 years, they produced and sold grapes to other wineries before starting their own winery five years ago.

Tobi Ripka said his farm has been in his wife’s family for a number of years. They have about 60 dairy cowsand they grow corn and alfalfa.

Clay Campbell’s father operated a dairy farm on land he purchased in the 1950s, Campbell said. About nine years ago, they transitioned to grain farming.

Commissioner Chris Exarchos said it was nice to see young faces taking over the farms, a comment preservation board Chairman William Keough said was appropriate.

“The farming that had been done for many years, those farmers are leaving the profession,” Keough said. “We’re turning the farms to a young generation of farmers who come in with a fuller plate in many cases.”

He also said a younger generation of farmers has elevated the knowledge base and productivity of farming, pointing to new opportunities such as the use of corn at the Pennsylvania Grain Processing ethanol-production facility in Clearfield.

The Board of Commissioners also honored Keough, who is stepping down as preservation board chairman after having served since the board’s creation in 1989.

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