Mae Axelrod August 2015

Mae Axelrod August 2015

Natural Lands Trust announced recently the conservation of the Yoder Farm, a 114-acre property in Warwick Township, Chester County.

The scenic farm forms the gateway vista into Warwick Township. The property lies in the upper reaches of French Creek near the western boundary of the Hopewell Big Woods, the largest unbroken forest remaining in southeastern Pennsylvania. In addition to its productive crop fields boasting soils classifying it as “prime farmland” and “farmland of statewide importance,” the property also contains important habitat for an endangered species.

Said Natural Lands Trust President Molly Morrison, “The intricacies of this project were remarkable. Kudos to the partners and funders who worked with us to navigate the twists and turns along the way so we could arrive at this successful outcome!”

The property was slated for a housing development with 26 residences, a nine-hole executive golf course and country club, and a 30,000-square-foot commercial space. The economic downturn led the owners to abandon development plans, and Warwick Township reached out to Natural Lands Trust hoping to find a conservation solution. Together, the Township and Natural Lands Trust developed a preservation strategy in which the farm fields would be preserved by an agricultural easement and the wetlands through a conservation easement. Under an easement, property remains in private ownership but is protected from future development in perpetuity.

“With the farm’s rolling terrain of farm fields and wetlands, you truly get a feeling of Warwick Township,” said Joan Grimley, Warwick Township administrator. “Thank you, Natural Lands Trust, for all your help to protect this iconic property.”

Once the restrictions were in place, the property in its entirety was purchased by Bill Beam, a local farmer who was honored with Chester County’s Farmer of the Year award in 1990. The award recognizes a farmer who maintains and exemplifies outstanding farming practices.

“My son Matt and his wife Rebecca plan to operate the farm and renovate the house, making it their home,” said Bill Beam. “It feels so good to preserve this farm forever.”

Support for this conservation of the farm was provided by the Chester County Agricultural Land Preservation Board and the Chester County Preservation Partnership Program. Chester County Commissioners Terence Farrell, Kathi Cozzone, and Michelle Kichline noted, “Preservation of this working farm and important natural area highlights the county’s commitment to balancing progress and preservation, and we are grateful for the exceptional skills of the Natural Lands Trust and the other partners in bringing this to fruition. This project is a perfect example of the high return on investment provided by open space preservation in Chester County.”

Because the undisturbed wetlands and streams that run through the property are important for protecting water quality, this conservation project received a $250,000 grant from the Open Space Institute’s Bayshore Highlands Fund. The Fund, created with funding from the William Penn Foundation, seeks to accelerate strategic land conservation in the Pennsylvania Highlands and New Jersey Bayshore.

“By protecting both drinking water and economic opportunity for farmers, the Yoder Farm project is truly a win-win for the residents in the region,” said OSI Executive Vice President Peter Howell. “The combination of the two types of land preservation on one farm is an optimal model of how to balance the protection of agriculture and natural resources.”

Additional support for preservation of the Yoder Farm was provided by the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund and Warwick Township.

Natural Lands Trust is the region’s foremost land conservation organization and is dedicated to protecting the forests, fields, streams, and wetlands that are essential to the sustainability of life in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Since its founding in 1953, Natural Lands Trust has preserved more than 100,000 acres, including 42 nature preserves totaling more than 22,000 acres. Today, millions of residents enjoy the healthy habitats, clean air and water, bountiful recreational opportunities, and scenic beauty provided by the lands the organization has preserved. For more information, visit