Amish farmer takes record $597,000 grant to reduce
<span style="font-weight: bold"><span style="font-size: 17pt">Amish farmer takes record $597,000 grant to reduce runoff</span></span>
By <span style="font-weight: bold">Ad Crable</span>
Mar. 7, 2015
<span style="font-weight: bold">LANCASTER</span> (AP) — A farmer in Sadsbury Township recently was awarded a $597,000 state grant to make wholesale improvements to a barnyard that one consultant described as "pretty much a mud lot."
It was the largest ag grant ever awarded to a farmer by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, also known as Pennvest.
But what is truly eye-opening is that the state taxpayer money is going to an Amish farmer.
With increasing state and federal pressure to substantially reduce the runoff of nutrients and soil choking the Chesapeake Bay, millions of dollars are being diplomatically offered to reticent Plain-sect farmers in Lancaster County to get more conservation measures on farms.
And in a break from the past, more and more Plain-sect farmers here are willing to accept government assistance to help pay for changes being demanded of them.
To be sure, there is hardly a stampede of Amish and Old Order Mennonite farmers competing for financial aid. And in some communities, the thought of taking government money remains abhorrent.
But after generations of flat-out turning their backs on taking any government aid, the thaw in attitude by some Plain-sect farmers, mainly Amish, is striking.
"Trying to stay ahead of regulations is the main thing," observes Darren Shenk of Red Barn Consulting, an East Hempfield Township company that often acts as a middleman between government funding and Amish farmers.
Those involved in working with Amish farmers to encourage them to adopt more best-management practices say the move a couple of years ago by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to play hardball in enforcing state-required conservation and manure-management plans on farms has definitely shaken up Plain-sect farmers.
Matt Ehrhart of the Chester County-based Stroud Water Research Center chuckles when he remembers a conversation he had with an Amish bishop 12 years ago about the need to clean up barnyards on some Amish farms.
"He said, 'Well, farmers are really, really busy. Some of these things we understand are a good idea. If the day comes where we see we have to do this, we will do it.'?"
The day has come.
But it should be noted that along with threatening to carry a big stick, EPA has sweetened the pot by providing funds to assist farmers in making barnyard improvements.
But other factors are at play as well, such as a general aversion to handouts.
"The main comment I get is they don't want something for nothing," observes Jeremy Weaver of TeamAg, a Lancaster-based farm-consulting business.
TeamAg has helped Amish farmers get 17 Pennvest grants in the last four years.
"We say, let's improve the environment and the sustainability and conserve natural resources," says Weaver, who helped Daniel Stoltzfus get that $597,000 grant in Sadsbury Township. "We've been getting more and more acceptance from these folks."
Weaver, who has been working with Plain-sect farmers for 13 years, also thinks newer generations of Amish farmers seem to be more receptive to managing their farms differently than their fathers and grandfathers did.
When he started working with Amish farmers, Weaver didn't even broach the subject of money assistance.
"I knew what the answer was going to be, so I didn't even bring it up," he recalls.
"Some are looking at it not as just a handout but something to move their operation along and make it more sustainable," says Heather Grove, district conservationist for the Lancaster County office of the federal National Resources Conservation Service.
Her office hands out about $2 million in financial assistance to Lancaster County farmers each year. She, too, has seen more applications from Plain-sect farmers.
Less prevalent than in the past is a fear among Plain sects that accepting any government funding might somehow require them to start paying Social Security.
But selling the need for water-quality improvements often has been difficult.
"You are not making it easier to produce goods such as their milk or tobacco," notes Ehrhart. "So the best we can do is say some of these programs can take care of water-quality issues, which society is willing to pay for. I think that resonates sometimes."
Ehrhart also thinks more Amish involvement in off-the-farm businesses has made the concept of financial assistance less foreign.
"These guys are running around with smartphones and are much more integrated into the regular world," he says.
The Octoraro Watershed Association, which has been working with Amish farmers to adopt best-management practices for 16 years, uses Amish liaisons to seal the deal.
Pat Fasano, project manager of the grass-roots group, says that for many years the path to success had to go through local leaders of Amish communities.
Now, he says, "generally, church leadership leaves the decision up to individual farmers."
Stoltzfus, 28, did not consult his bishop in agreeing to accept the $597,000 grant on his newly purchased farm.
His farm, in a flood plain and with a stream running through the barnyard, was especially challenging.
A pipe will be run underneath Valley Run to pipe manure from a cow barn to a new manure-storage facility above the flood plain.
Also, both sides of the stream will be fenced to keep cows out of the waterway, and a streamside buffer will improve wildlife in and out of the water.
The dramatic shift in thinking among church leaders is reflected in a recent conversation Jeff Swinehart, deputy director of Lancaster Farmland Trust, had with an Amish bishop.
It was at a closing for a conservation easement on a farm, and the subject of increased conservation measures on farms came up.
Recalls Swinehart, "He said if the government is going to require this, then it's OK to get assistance, and to seek it out."
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