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Farmland owners receive help to ensure land remains agricultural

The Municipal Partnership Program received just more than $260,000 last week to purchase an easement on 225 acres of the 600-acre Thomson family farm, owned by Dennis and Joan Thomson. The remaining 375 acres will be protected with a permanent conservation easement that will be donated by the Thomson family to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
The Municipal Partnership Program received just more than $260,000 last week to purchase an easement on 225 acres of the 600-acre Thomson family farm, owned by Dennis and Joan Thomson. The remaining 375 acres will be protected with a permanent conservation easement that will be donated by the Thomson family to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Photo provided

The Centre County Agricultural Land Preservation Board’s Municipal Partnership Program was established in 2015 to help farmland owners purchase easements to ensure their land will remain agricultural. Last week, the program received the largest financial contribution since the program’s inception.

MPP was established as a way for municipalities to contribute money toward the easement purchases. The county receives the money and leverages the state to match the funds through the Pennsylvania easement purchase program. The state usually matches the dollar amount in full, according to Sarah Walter, coordinator of the CCALPB.

The state developed the easement purchase program in 1988 to slow the loss of farmland to non-agricultural use. More than 4,700 farms totaling more than 500,000 acres statewide have been permanently protected since the program’s inception. The program has protected more than any other state program in the nation, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Centre County is one of 57 counties in Pennsylvania that have an Agricultural Land Preservation board. The county’s board was created in 1989 and has preserved 46 farms totaling more than 7,000 acres, and there are 50 farms on the waiting list, according to Walter.

MPP received just more than $260,000 last week to purchase an easement on 225 acres of the 600-acre Thomson family farm, owned by Dennis and Joan Thomson. The remaining 375 acres will be protected with a permanent conservation easement that will be donated by the Thomson family to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, according to Walter.

The land is home to the headwaters of Warriors Mark Run, which flows into Spruce Creek. Dennis Thomson said he feels a duty to preserve not only the run, but the wetlands and forest on the property.

“We have a responsibility to try to leave the earth better than we found it. And as a family, our two children included, we have tried to repair the land from prior abuse,” he said. “Since we moved to Pennsylvania and were able to acquire land, we feel that a responsibility of ownership is stewardship.”

The Thomsons moved to Pennsylvania from Wisconsin in 1970. The family donated land in Wisconsin to a conservancy, which is now home to a nature center. Thomson said the Wisconsin project took almost 25 years and he hopes to achieve a similar outcome in Halfmoon Township.

“The partnership program in Centre County is an enabler and it’s what’s helping to grease the wheels,” he said. “But in order to pull off what we want to do with the property, what’s important is the partnership with each of the parties contributing the particular parts that they can.”

Prior to Halfmoon Township’s contribution to help purchase the easement for the Thomson farm, the largest contribution made to the MPP was $40,000 from Potter Township in 2015.

“From my point of view, the financial aspects are not relevant, that’s not what’s driving me,” Thomson said. “What’s most important is leaving the Earth a better place.”

Leon Valsechi: 814-231-4631, @leon_valsechi

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