‘Great for the local economy’: Montco permanently preserves three farms

This 23-acre farm owned by Suzanne Banyacsky is one of three new additions to the Montgomery County Agricultural Land Preservation Program. (Courtesy of the Montgomery County Planning Commission)

This 23-acre farm owned by Suzanne Banyacsky is one of three new additions to the Montgomery County Agricultural Land Preservation Program. (Courtesy of the Montgomery County Planning Commission)

Montgomery County has permanently preserved three additional properties under its Farmland Preservation Program.

“Farming is an integral part of our heritage, and the county values and supports our local farming businesses, which provide healthy, local foods and conserve our prime agricultural soil,”  Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement.

Now joining the program are Suzanne Banyacsky’s 23-acre farm in Perkiomen Township, Edward B. Stokes Jr.’s 117-acre farm in New Hanover Township, and Thomas Latshaw’s 61-acre farm in Upper Hanover Township.

“It is basically the family farm,” Latshaw said in an interview. “I didn’t want to see it built [or] developed, so I chose to preserve it.”

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Stephen Zbyszinski, Montgomery County’s farmland preservation planner, says that the program is beneficial because the farms provide locally sourced food to the surrounding communities. (Courtesy of the Montgomery County Planning Commission)

With most of the funds provided by the county and the state, the Farmland Preservation Program buys the agricultural easement and the farmer maintains the land.

“The landowner still owns the property, but we do own the development rights, so it would be farmed in perpetuity. There would never be development taking place on the land,” said Stephen Zbyszinski, farmland preservation planner for the Montgomery County Planning Commission.

Currently, the county is preserving 175 farms, amounting to about 10,000 acres.

Because the program began in 1990, the waitlist has shrunk, according to Zbyszinski. The roughly two-year process includes multiple farm visits, surveys and an appraisal. The program is “great for the economy,” he said, because it benefits the surrounding community by lowering taxes and providing locally sourced food.

The new farmland acquired by the program is also home to several farm animals. (Courtesy of the Montgomery County Planning Commission)

The Montgomery County Agricultural Land Preservation Board will present a Zoom webinar on Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. to give interested farmers the chance to ask questions and learn more about the program.

“We are pleased to offer this webinar to inform farmers of this program, which can continue the legacy of their farm in Montgomery County,” Arkoosh said.

Though he has only recently joined the program, Latshaw endorsed agricultural preservation for farmers who do not want to see their land developed.

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“I thought it was a good idea, and if [farmers interested in the program] don’t want to see it developed, it’s the way to go,” he said.

The application deadline is Feb. 1.

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