HOLLENBACK TWP. — When Gary and Randi Rinehimer were handed a sign on Wednesday that identified their farm as being preserved, a milestone was achieved.
The Rinehimer farm became the 30th property to be protected from development under the Luzerne County Farmland Preservation Program. Since the program was implemented in 2000, 3,080 acres of farmland have been preserved in the county.
The program preserves active farms and prevents them from being used for any purpose other than agriculture, and related activities. The preservation is done through the purchase of a conservation easement for which the farmer is compensated. Funding for the purchase of easements is provided by the Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program and Luzerne County’s Clean and Green Program.
In 2017, more than 16,000 acres of farmland were preserved on 197 farms statewide with an average price of $2,900 per acre. Luzerne County received $471,366 in state funds for farmland preservation last year.
For the Rinehimers, the decision to preserve their 173-acre farm was easy.
“We enjoy this way of life and want to see it continue to exist for future generations,” Gary Rinehimer said. “Farming isn’t the easiest way to make money, but it’s a lifestyle we enjoy.”
He added that the money received from the program — which is calculated based on soil type, development pressure and other factors — will help the farm transition from raising replacement dairy heifers to a beef operation.
Preserving farms also benefits consumers, Rinehimer added.
“A lot of people question why spend money to preserve farms,” he said. “If people want to buy locally produced food, this helps to keep that happening in Luzerne County.”
And there are plenty of farms to follow in Luzerne County.
According to Jennifer Lauri, program administrator for the Luzerne Conservation District, there are 30 farms on the waiting list and the next one could be preserved in 2019.
Linda Thoma, who chairs the Luzerne County Agriculture Board, said it was exciting to see the program reach the 30-farm mark.
“We started talking about this in 1996 and it opened in the county in 2000, so I’m thrilled we’ve gotten to this point,” she said. “The program was happening in so many other counties before we implemented it here, and it was money that was passing us by to preserve farms.”
The Rinehimer’s farm is the second to be preserved in Hollenback Township. There are two other farms in the township on the waiting list, and Thoma said their proximity to the Rinehimer farm could be a benefit in the ranking process.
“This is an excellent program. It gives us what we need to continue doing what we love,” Randi Rinehimer said. “It’s a blessing.”