Mike Zielinski

Mike Zielinski

There are a lot of cool things about Berks County and one of them is we have a lot of dirt.

I kid you not.

We’re big on farmland and that’s a wonderful thing even though few among us have ever pulled a plow.

While my mind is about as nimble as a dairy cow when it comes to understanding the nuances of agriculture, I do know that nobody grows food in supermarket parking lots.

We all need to eat, of course. Without food, we are as fragile as Venetian chandeliers.

Which is where farms factor in. Farms feed us as well as provide a host of economic, environmental and socio-cultural benefits.

But our farms also are threatened by developers who are addicted to brick, mortar, stone and asphalt. As we have witnessed in other counties, overdevelopment is worse than male pattern baldness suddenly striking the Rolling Stones.

But here in Berks County, it’s time to cue the rainbow and the violins.

The Berks County Commissioners will allocate a little more than $1 million to preserve more than 7,000 acres of farmland.

That will help the Berks County Agricultural Land Preservation Program cross the 80,000-acre threshold for the amount of farmland saved by the program.

Berks is seventh in the nation, and third in Pennsylvania, in preserving its farmland through a 30-year-old statewide program of purchasing agricultural easements that saves fields, pastures, orchards and vineyards from development and eminent domain.

The county has already preserved more than 745 farms in rural and agricultural zones. Indeed, 108 farms are expected to be added to that list in 2019 thanks to the support of the commissioners.

That good news should have all our faces breaking into sunlight. There’s nothing like driving past rows of silos arrayed like helmeted soldiers, assured that we will not starve unless sheets of lightning-bleached rain ruin the crops in this age of storm-soaked global warming.

Berks is one of 58 counties that participate in Pennsylvania's easement program, created to slow the loss of farmland to housing and commercial development.

Farms do not stand alone. Each is an anchor of stability for other nearby farms. Each is a thread in a web of neighboring farms. When many threads are lost, farms and farm businesses no longer have the mutual support needed to keep the local farm economy viable.

The economy is almost as important as breathing. The economic impact of agriculture on Pennsylvania is enormous.

Econsult Solutions, Inc. unveiled a 2018 report created in partnership with the Temple University Fox School of Business outlining the economic impact of the agriculture industry in Pennsylvania.

The ESI team determined that agriculture directly accounts for approximately $83.8 billion in economic output and over $22.7 billion in value add, and it supports more than 280,500 jobs and $10.9 billion in earnings.

Just shows that you can grow money in fertile farmland fields.

Mike Zielinski, a resident of Berks County, is a columnist, novelist, playwright and screenwriter.

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