Chester County's Preserved Farm Tours
Posted June 8, 2022
For the first time this past May, Chester County provided free guided tours of farms preserved through the county's agricultural lands preservation program. These tours aimed to give residents, local representatives, and other interested individuals an opportunity to not only learn about the value of agricultural preservation here in the county, but also to see first-hand the variety of farms and farm products offered!
On May 11, the county's guided tour featured Natural Lands' Stroud Preserve in West Chester. Although not a farm, per se, the tour was led by the Stroud Water Research Center, which is conducting agricultural trails in partnership with the Rodale Institute to test the impacts of several different farming methods on water quality and soil health. At least 3 different watersheds originate on the preserve, and the Research Center is using that unique topography to isolate the effects of organic vs. conventional farming practices on water quality by testing water from the different tributaries and comparing the samples to each other. This is year 5 of their trial, and chemicals from pesticides are still being found in the water even though these chemicals have not been applied since the trials began.
On May 14, historic Milky Way Farm in Chester Springs provided tour participants with the opportunity to learn how dairy farming was done in the past compared to today with a robotic milking machine! Farm owners Melba and Sam Matthews made it clear that the farm's integration with the community is what has made it successful — from their township's support for purchasing the farm's development rights years ago, to the decision to invite the public onto the farm to pick pumpkins, to the establishment of the creamery — making the farm a focal point in the Chester Springs community. Those who attended even got to bottle feed calves!
And lastly, on May 21, the county offered a tour of Marshlands in Elverson. Bill Beam, the farmer who leases land at Marshlands, put it best: "There's a lot ore going on here than you might think." He talked about losing thousands of acres of leased farmland to development over the years, and how important preserved farms are for farmers who lease land. Marshlands is also home to the Great Marsh Institute, which hosts public programs and researchers to study the unique marsh ecosystem. Tour participants heard from two such researchers — one who was placing audio recorders around the marsh to try to detect bird species that are typically hard to spot visually, and one tracking and tagging turtles within the marsh. The tour ended with tours of two homes on the property: a beautifully restored modern dwelling, currently rented as an Airbnb, that was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the historic stone farmhouse that dates back to the early 1700s.
While tours of Katt & Mathy Farms and 1723 Vineyards in Landenberg were also planned, they were unfortunately rained out so the county hopes to offer tours of these farms in the future!
We thank the farmers and organizations that volunteered to share their important stories, and everyone who participated in the tours, and we hope to see you again in the future! In the meantime, be sure to check out Chester County's new Guide to Local Farm Products which highlights over 125 family-owned farms and markets throughout the county. The guide includes a map and farm addresses for easy navigation, plus a chart that indicates what's currently in season.