Willistown, and all of Chester County, is a valued part of America’s food basket. The region is blessed with rich farmland. County and township agencies have organized to protect the land that provides top-quality nutritious food to those purchasing fresh produce at our local farms and farmers’ markets and stores across the region.
A study of Willistown’s Rock Hill Farm has shown that the land, now under contract to be developed, contains a large section of prime agricultural soils. Prime farmland, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber, and oilseed crops.
Rock Hill contains three classes of prime agricultural soils, including Class 1 and Class II. Class I soils have slight limitations that restrict their use. Class II soils have moderate limitations that reduce the choice of plants or require moderate conservation practices.
Willistown’s own Comprehensive Plan states township leaders should protect prime agricultural land. Development of Rock Hill Farm will put the rich soil at risk. The proffered sketch plan for the proposed development does not preserve the farm’s prime agricultural land.
Local efforts are underway to stop the unwanted development. Local neighbors have formed a Save Rock Hill Farm group. Neighbors and those affected by the development are urged to make their opposition known to the officials of Willistown Township and attend township meetings. No approval for development has been given at this point.
The area for the proposed development is almost exclusively designated as Class I and II Prime Agricultural Soils. Besides the rich soil, the farm contains significant wooded areas. Again, the township’s Comprehensive Plan states “that areas of significant biotic resources and environmentally sensitive lands should continue to be preserved and protected.”
Chester County is recognized as possessing some of the best non-irrigated farmland in the United States. The combination of soils, about 45 percent is classified as prime farmland, and the average rainfall of 46 inches annually creates an excellent environment for crop production.
Locally, Rushton Farm reportedly yields 30,000 pounds of food a year for the farm’s CSA (community supported agriculture) program members and for two local food cupboards. And a Rock Hill Farm neighboring property is harvested twice a year for its wheat and used by mushroom farmers in the Kennett Square area.
For sure, the picturesque farms offer much more than exceptionally beautiful landscapes. There is a business side to the agricultural community. One report stated in Chester County the farmlands are viewed as a vital industry creating more than $600 million in revenue annually. Chester County’s agricultural industry contributes more than $3 billion to our local economy through sales, employment, taxes, and services.
A report on Chester County farming include the fact that more than 1,700 farms function in the county. Of course the farms include the mushroom business in southern Chester County where more than half of all mushrooms consumed in the United States are produced. That crop benefits from the farms surrounding Rock Hill Farm.
Chester County is a major provider of agricultural products, second in the state, with a strong agricultural economy and extensive areas of preserved farmland. Rock Hill Farm and its rich soils deserve to be shielded from development.