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Here in Northampton County, agriculture has been a dominant part of daily life from the beginning of European settlement. The earliest settlers arrived in the county in the first decades of the 17th century, shortly after William Penn arrived in Philadelphia. As these first colonists cleared the forests, they planted corn and wheat in their newly cleared fields, and then built crude log homes to protect their families.
Today, according to a 2001 statistic, 52.8% of land in the Lehigh Valley area is still used for agriculture or is vacant land. Our area’s farmers still grow the same basic crops that have sustained agriculture in Northampton County for nearly three centuries – corn, barley, wheat, soybeans, and a variety of vegetables for an ever-increasing metropolitan market. Beef and dairy cattle, and thousands of hogs, chickens and turkeys are readily seen on a drive through the county’s back roads.
But, our county’s precious farmland is rapidly disappearing as developers are purchasing individual farms and converting them into housing developments. However, thanks to grass roots organizations that recognize the importance of agriculture to our local and regional economy, agriculture and agribusiness in the county are getting a great deal of attention.
It’s no secret that the area’s distinctive countryside is changing. As city-dwellers from New Jersey, New York and the greater Philadelphia region discover the easy commute from Northampton County, our open land and scenic farmsteads are rapidly disappearing; to be quickly replaced with fields and hillsides dotted with houses and town homes. In far too many cases, Northampton County’s farmers have discovered that making a living off the land is difficult or impossible. Therefore, when large sums of money are offered for their land, they usually sell to developers who are then building residential and industrial structures.
School Board members, zoning and planning boards, planning commissioners and other local township and county officials are actively working together to address the disappearance of our county’s farmland. Our county’s farmers are certainly concerned about this new “rural-residential sprawl,” where new residents move into a formerly all-rural part of the county and then complain about slow-moving farm equipment on the roads, and the smell of manure.
To help educate families that find themselves living along-side traditional agriculture, the Northampton Cooperative Extension Association, along with the farmers of Northampton County, have started an Open Gate Farm Tour. Families attending these tours will learn how to till the soil, plant seeds, and raise farm animals. Local produce and fall decorations will be sold at many of the tour sites.
Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Lehigh Valley Horse Council have also established a network to link up hay growers and horse owners; the primary consumers in Northampton County of hay and oats. This network enables local growers to sell directly to local consumers, instead of importing hay from other parts of Pennsylvania, and from New York and Canada.
All of these programs are aimed at improving the relationships between our county’s farmers and the families that live adjacent to their farms.
Source: Penn State Cooperative Extension and Outreach, Pennsylvania State University