The results of the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent (2017) Census of Agriculture was released in April, and if you’re even a little bit interested in the state of agriculture in Adams County, the report provides a feast of information and plentiful food for thought:
As of 2017, Adams County was home to 1,146 farms encompassing 166,227 acres, that’s nearly 50 percent of the county’s total acreage in farmland, which might explain why it seems like whenever you drive outside of Gettysburg you tend to be surrounded by beautiful orchards, rolling pastures, and amber waves of grain, right? That there are so many local acres in agriculture also seems like pretty good news if you’re a farmer, or someone who likes to eat food.
But there’s a sobering context to this figure: since the last Ag Census in 2012, we’ve lost 42 farms (4 percent of our total) and 5,078 acres of farmland (3 percent of our total) to other uses. How big exactly is 5,078 acres? It’s nearly eight square miles, 3,847 football fields, or almost the entire Gettysburg National Military Park (which weighs in at nearly 6,000 acres). Imagine that you went to visit the military park and instead of Pickett’s Charge and the Wheatfield all you could see was developed land, strip malls, parking lots, housing developments, distribution warehouses. That’s how much farmland we’ve lost here in Adams County since 2012. Yikes.
But with all that said, Adams County’s farmland loss is actually slightly less than average in Pennsylvania, where over the last five years the number of farms has fallen by 10 percent, and farmland acreage has shrunk by 6 percent. But still, nearly four thousand football fields, 42 farms.
To make matters worse, net farm income in Adams County has declined by 21 percent, or 18 percent on average for each Adams County farmer, which is actually much worse than the average in Pennsylvania, where farm incomes have increased by 42 percent over the last five years.
But still, there’s reason for hope as the next generation of farmers takes over the plow here in Adams County. Of our 2,040 farm producers, nearly 30 percent are new and beginning farmers, and more than 13 percent are younger than age 35, these figures are higher than average for Pennsylvania, which suggests that new farmers and young farmers are attracted to Adams County as a favorable spot to, put down roots.
So even though the Adams County countryside blooms with pastoral, and edible, splendor today, we’d be wise to take an interest in the state of agriculture here in County of Adams. How can you do that? The easiest way to help our local farmers is to buy your food from them. You can find a list of Adams County farmers markets and other places to buy locally grown food at the Adams County Food Policy Council’s website (AdamsFoodPolicy.org).
Another way to support local agriculture, here’s my shameless plug, is to support the Land Conservancy of Adams County. We work with local landowners (including those who own farms) to help them preserve their land in its undeveloped state forever, so that in another five, or 50, or 150 years, their land will still be farmland. Your support helps us do that. You can learn more at LCACnet.org.
The Land Conservancy of Adams County is a member-supported nonprofit land trust with the mission of preserving Adams County’s rural lands and character. For more information about the land conservancy, visit LCACnet.org.