BUTLER TWP. — Tom Wenner will have a little more peace of mind this spring when the weather finally warms up and he can get into his fields.
Wenner will be able to plant his fields and tend his cows knowing that his farm will be preserved forever.
This week Wenner and his wife, Sara Jane, and daughter, Morgan, received a check from the Luzerne County Farmland Preservation Program for the development rights to their 97-acre farm. In exchange for giving up the development rights, the Wenner’s were reimbursed $3,250 an acre through the program.
But the money wasn’t the motivating factor.
“I was born and raised here. It’s always been a farm and I want it to stay that way,” said Wenner, adding that the farm has been in his family for more than 150 years. “(The program) was the right thing to do.”
Prior to 1955 the Wenner family raised tomatoes and potatoes on the farm before converting to a dairy operation, which lasted until 1992. Now, in addition to raising some steers for beef, the Wenners grow corn, oats and hay.
Another reason behind their decision was the urban sprawl that has consumed many family farms in the region over the years. Morgan Wenner said she has seen the impact of sprawling development on farmland in the Lancaster area near where she attends college at Elizabethtown.
Her mother said the program is important not only to save agricultural acreage, but family farms as well.
“People don’t realize how fast the family farmer is getting pushed out and replaced by corporate farms,” she said. “It makes people naive about where their food comes from, and there’s no longer a connection.”
The Wenner farm is the 27th to be preserved in Luzerne County and it borders to other previously preserved farms — the Kupsho and Burger farms. The Kupsho farm also borders the Thomas farm, which is preserved as well.
Together with the Wenners, the program has preserved a 372.5-acre block of farmland in Butler Township, representing 43 percent of the total of 875 acres of preserved farmland in the municipality.
The program has preserved a total of 2,677.5 acres across the county.
“Every farm we preserve it important, and this one fills a gap between two other preserved farm,” said program administrator Nancy Snee of the county planning commission. “By preserving these large blocks of land it lessens the opportunity for a developer to come in between the farms and build a housing development.”
The proximity to other preserved farms improved the Wenner’s ranking in the program, as did other factors such as soil types and site assessment in regards to the land’s appeal to be used for development.
The next farm to be preserved is the Wolk farm which is also in Butler Township. Snee said that will take place next year.