Mention farmland preservation to anyone in Lancaster County, and the first name that comes to mind is Amos Funk, the County’s “Father of Farmland Preservation”, because of his unrivaled leadership and commitment to farmland preservation throughout his life.
Amos was born in Manor Township on a farm and in a house in which his father was born. Born into agriculture, Amos made it the focus of his life and was associated with every step of the preservation movement in Lancaster County. His consciousness was raised in the late 1930’s when he became aware of the serious erosion taking place on his home farm and learned that by changing the shape of fields and farming across the hills in alternate strips of cultivated and uncultivated crops, erosion could be reduced. Amos had suggested to his father that the U.S. Soil Conservation Service prepare a conservation plan for their farm. Amos’ father was skeptical but relented, telling Amos, “you probably will be farming long after I am gone, and if you think it is a good idea, let’s try it.”
Amos was a tireless advocate for conservation, and when the Lancaster Conservation District was formed in 1950, he joined its board, serving for 45 years. His work on conservation made him realize that the county’s productive agricultural lands were disappearing to development.
Informed by his reading and travels to areas of the country that were developing agricultural land preservation programs, Amos began to push local officials to take action. In 1980, eight years before the start of the state farmland preservation program, the Lancaster County Commissioners appointed the Agricultural Preserve Board to devise ways to protect the county’s valuable farmland. Amos traveled around the county personally meeting with farmers. Amos chaired the Board for its first twelve years and, in 1983, the Board preserved its first farm.
With concern over the lack of Amish participation (due to an unwillingness to participate in a government-funded program), Amos joined others in creating an organization to raise and dispense private funds for agricultural land preservation, Friends of Land Preservation. Friends became Lancaster Farmland Trust (LFT) in 1988. Public and private programs have been partners in their preservation efforts ever since and Amos’ dream of preserving Amish farms had been realized.
Today, Lancaster County leads the nation in farmland preservation with 1,100 farms and more than 86,000 acres preserved by the two organizations started by Amos Funk. This success would not have been possible without his vision and leadership. In honor of his vision and leadership, Amos was awarded the 2010 Lifetime Leadership Award by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.
Amos passed away February 13, 2010 at the age of 98. He was survived by his wife, Esta (who has since passed) of 73 years as well as six children, 11 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson.