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Organization salutes key figure in farmland preservation in Berks County

Monday February 3, 2014 12:01 AM
By Valdis I. Lacis

(Update: This story has been corrected to fix attribution of quotes by State Sen. Judy Schwank and Sheila Miller, and to correct the amount of the check Miller presented to Adopt an Acre.)


Adopt An Acre Inc., an educational nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing the loss of farmland in Berks County, has honored Robert C. Ziegenfus of Kutztown University, a central figure in the county's agricultural preservation work for the past 25 years.


State Sen. Judy Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat who sits on the state agricultural preservation board, said Ziegenfus led the creation of the Berks County Agricultural Preservation Board in 1989.

"He became a volunteer charter member of the board at a time when suburban sprawl was chewing up our farmland," said Sheila Miller, head of the Berks Agricultural Resource Network, or BARN.


The ag board has preserved 668 farms totaling 66,994 acres, which ranks it first in the state and third in the nation, Schwank said.


"His leadership made agricultural preservation in Berks a reality," said Glenn B. Reber, who served as county commissioner at the time and attended the Adopt-An-Acre's annual meeting Thursday.


Tammi S. Hildebrand, executive director of the ag board, credited Reber and Schwank, also a former county commissioner, for coming up with a $31 million bond issue and then a $31 million line-of-credit which, along with matching state dollars, gave the board more than $65 million to work with over the years.


"It's truly the taxpayers of Berks County that I applaud," Miller said, adding she was surprised when the residents of the city of Reading came out in support of preserving farms.


Hildebrand noted that Ziegenfus, a professor of geography for the past 30 years, had been her adviser when she was a student and nudged her to eventually join up with the preservation board.


"You made a huge difference in setting the tone for the agency and creating a legacy for others to follow," Schwank said


Miller presented Adopt An Acre with a $5,000 check to honor the work of Ziegenfus and his colleagues.


Vicki Kintzer, also a volunteer charter member of the preservation board in 1989, recently became its chairwoman after Ziegenfus led it for the past 16 years.


Ted Noble, president of Adopt An Acre, noted that his organization, created in 2004, works to preserve smaller farms that don't qualify for the preservation board's program.


According to its treasurer, Tracy Bastian, Adopt An Acre has preserved two 12-acre farms in Upper Tulpehocken and North Heidelberg townships, and is working to preserve a third one in North Heidelberg, and has its sights set on five more small farms.


Ziegenfus, who said he grew up as a Berks County farm boy near Kutztown, also said he would like to see a sign at the driveway of each preserved farm designating its status.


"I look forward to allowing our farmers to demonstrate their commitment to agriculture for generations to come," he said.Contact Valdis I. Lacis: 610-371-5000 or news@readingeagle.com.

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