Family, Faith, Farming and Clean Water

The Caseys and the Smuckers– two Pennsylvania families with a rich history in different lines of work, but with a lot of the same interests: family, faith, farming and clean water. I was lucky enough to be part of a great day where two scions of these well-known families spent a few hours together looking at conservation problems and solutions on an Amish farm in Lancaster County, PA.

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) is the senior Senator from Pennsylvania and a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture. His father was governor of Pennsylvania. Joe Smucker has taken over his family’s dairy farm outside of East Earl; the farm has been in his family for generations.

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Jenn Quinn (PennFuture) and I laid the groundwork for the tour earlier in the year when we were visiting Pennsylvania Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. In our meeting with Senator Casey’s Senior Policy Advisor we first thanked the Senator for his past support for full funding for the Chesapeake Stewardship Grants.  Then, we pitched the idea of getting the Senator out to look at some projects that were already funded. That offer, after some lengthy negotiating and a few date changes, is what led to this tour on a perfect summer day in early August.

The conservation practices on the Smucker Farm came from many sources – funding and/or technical assistance from an array of agencies and organizations, as well as the vision of Joe Smucker and his family. We focused on a Chesapeake Stewardship Grant that had been given to the Stroud Water Research Center, which in turn worked with a number of farms and farmers in the region. We had folks from Stroud, TeamAg, Lancaster County Conservation District and PennFuture join with those of us who organized the tour. The National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), who administers the grant programs, hosted the tour. We were joined by Russ Redding , Secretary of Agriculture for Pennsylvania, as well as a number of neighboring Amish farmers who wanted to see what was going on at the Smucker Farm. We were also joined by a reporter with the Lancaster Farming newspaper. Click here for his take on the day.

We were met by the entire Smucker Family – Joe, his wife Martha, most of their kids (some were still working in the field), Joe’s father (Joe Smucker, Senior) and their neighbors. Senator Casey arrived and spent time chatting with the Smuckers, including their children, and all the neighbors.

Joe Smucker led the tour and showed us a new manure stacking area. He told a story about the large open manure pile that served as the farm’s “storage” area right next to where we were standing.  He noted that every time he walked by the pile it bothered him because he knew that when it rained the manure washed down the hill into the creek in the valley on the farm. As soon as he was able to get assistance from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), he fixed this problem. We also looked at a forested riparian buffer that was recently planted along the small creek (headwaters of the Conestoga) in the farm’s valley. We learned about the Smucker Farm use of no-till farming techniques and cover crops, and their conservation plan. All of these conservation practices depended on financial and technical assistance from an array of sources, including Stroud and NFWF.

Joe Smucker was asked if he would be going around talking to other Amish farmers and encouraging them to install many of the conservation practices that he had. He gave a calm, reasoned and eloquent response – that started with “No”, but that he was willing to “lead by example” and would be happy to show what he did and talk to anyone who contacted him about it.

Senator Casey was very interested in many of the aspects of the conservation practices that were being used on the Smucker Farm, including how to get more of those practices onto other farms in Pennsylvania.  Senator Casey also interacted with the Smucker children, including their young daughter, where he related a story about being the father of four daughters.

At the end of the day Secretary Redding and I had a few minutes to discuss a proposal by Governor Wolf(D-PA), where he was seeking $10 million from USDA for conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed portion of the state. We urged Senator Casey to weigh in with the Obama Administration in support of this proposal.  Shortly after this tour, Senator Casey sent a very strong letter to the heads of the Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality, both in the White House, urging the Administration to provide additional support for conservation practices on farms in the Chesapeake Bay portion of PA. We’re hoping to learn the fate of this proposal by October 4, when the Chesapeake Executive Council (Bay watershed governors, EPA Administrator, DC Mayor and Bay Commission chair) has its last annual meeting during the Obama Administration.