As part of our 50 stories for our 50th-anniversary, we are spending this month celebrating our work in agriculture. With approximately 87,000 farms in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Alliance provides resources enabling farmers to maintain productive agricultural lands while simultaneously protecting their local waterways. Our collaboration with Cocalico Watershed Association, Lancaster Clean Water Partners, TeamAg, and Brilyn Acres is a perfect example of our long-term commitment to convening like-minded partners and accomplishing more together.

The Cocalico Creek is a stream running through Lebanon and Lancaster Counties in Pennsylvania. The Cocalico creek flows into the Conestoga River that joins the Susquehanna River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, this creek is categorized as an “impaired stream” on Pennsylvania’s 303 list, which means that Cocalico Creek needs to improve its water quality.

At first sight, one could think that this stream does not have problems because there are multiple species of fauna living in Cocalico Creek, such as toads and Canadian geese. However, only a limited species of animals can thrive in these waters due to the low water quality and the poor habitat conditions. 

Canadian geese nest just off from the Cocalico Creek. These birds are native to North America and have adapted very well to live in human-altered areas

An Eastern American toad in the meadows of the Cocalico Creek. This is a very common toad found in the eastern United States and Canada

Agriculture is one of the most important economic activities in Lancaster County. There are multiple farms located along Cocalico Creek. Many of these farms are generating nutrient runoffs and sediments that end up in the waterways. Farmers try to prevent these incidents by implementing Best Management Practices (BMP), such as riparian forest buffers, manure storage facilities, barnyard stabilization, heavy use area protections, etc. Unfortunately, only a few can afford to pay for these BMPs.

Our Agriculture and Forest Teams have joined forces to help Brilyn Acres, a farm that sits on the west bank of the Cocalico Creek in Ephrata, to complete a project that will improve the health of this local stream. Brilyn Acres produces beef, pork, poultry, and crops. They sell their products at local farmers’ markets and online and have been part of the community for a long time. Brian and Lynette Sauder are the third generation living and working on this farm and want to leave their legacy to their children. Although the Sauders have been adopting many essential conservation practices such as no-till and cover crop, they still want to do more to preserve Cocalico Creek and their land. 

Our teams found different resources to create a plan that will transform this property in conjunction with the Cocalico Watershed Association, Lancaster Clean Water Partners, TeamAg, and other conservation organizations. This plan includes the implementation of over 5 acres of riparian forest buffer, exclusion fencing, a heavy use area protection, stream crossings, and stormwater management controls. Together, these BMPs will help reduce approximately 82,326 lbs. of sediments, 500 lbs. of nitrogen, and 100 lbs. of phosphorus a year. Not to mention all the habitat and shelter that the trees will create for local wildlife. 

We have helped several farmers in the area with cost-share dollars. Many of these farms would not be able to complete these projects without the support of our programs. The need is significant, and these “before” photos of a different farm nearby speak for themselves. The barnyard was generating a lot of sediments and runoffs, and there was no manure storage. All these nutrients and sediments ultimately ended up in our local streams and rivers.  However, the “after” photos are encouraging as this farm now can prevent runoffs thanks to the newly built BMPs.

“Before” photo of a typical barnyard that generates sediments and runoff in a Lancaster County farm.

“After” photo of the newly stabilized barnyard in a Lancaster County farm.

Going back to Brilyn Acres in Ephrata, the first implemented BMP was the riparian forest buffer.  Our teams decided to plant some of the trees to help to complete this project and save a few dollars in labor. Luckily, the weather cooperated, and we have a beautiful sunny, breezy day in April to do this planting. Since 5 acres of the buffer is a bit more than we can handle ourselves, a group of volunteers from different local organizations, students, and businesses completed the tree planting a couple of days after. This educational activity is not something new for the Sauders as they have had many visitors that have learned about agriculture, food, and conservation. 

The Alliance team planting the trees at Brilyn Acres

The next BMPs that will need to go in on Brilyn Acres include; exclusion fencing, heavy use area protection, and stormwater management controls. The total cost for these BMPs is approximately $275,000. This estimate does not include any animal management equipment, such as curtains, fans, stalls, headlocks, etc. The Alliance has allocated approximately $48,000 to this project. Furthermore, $167,000 from the Conservation Excellence Grant (state funding) was secured by partners. Without the help of all the partners and the community, a single-family would not be able to afford these projects. 

The support from the community to Brilyn Acres is encouraging and demonstrates that the farmers do not need to carry all the responsibilities of being a good steward. This farm is a perfect example of what we can achieve when we work together. Farmers struggle day to day to continue with their work due to low prices, lack of labor, among others. Communities enjoying the benefits of having a healthier creek can and should support landowners and farmers like the Sauders by volunteering and providing resources.

Buffer planted at Brilyn Acres Farm on the banks of the Cocalico Creek.

Unfortunately, many times farms in similar situations do not know how to get resources or are overwhelmed with all that needs to be done to make their project happen. But our work as part of the community is to support them by connecting them with resources, educating them, or volunteering, so together, we can take care of our streams, land, and community.