In March, Adams County farmers Kenneth and Mildred Hankey completed a conservation easement agreement with the Land Conservancy of Adams County to preserve a 29-acre parcel of land in Latimore Township outside York Springs. They are currently working with the Land Conservancy on two more conservation easements, on parcels of approximately 70 acres and 58 acres, respectively.
While every easement settlement is cause for celebration at the Land Conservancy, for the organization’s land conservation coordinator Adam Boyer, the Hankey project has been especially rewarding. “The Hankeys are people I’ve known of for as long as I can remember,” says the Adams County native. “Their younger daughter went to school with my parents, and my grandparents and great-grandparents knew the Hankeys from farming around York Springs. Mildred and Kenneth and my great-grandmother are about the same age, and they’ve grow closer in recent years as most members of their generation in the area have passed away.”
Boyer notes that the Hankey farm is a landmark of sorts. “Many people in northeastern Adams County can identify it simply because of its location,” he says. “You can see it clearly from Route 94, and it’s very close to the campus of Bermudian Springs School District, so a lot of people drive by there on the way to or from school.”
Over the years, that prominent location has caused the Hankey property to be targeted for a variety of non-agricultural uses, including a 400-home housing development at the height of the real-estate boom in the mid-2000s. Despite those development proposals, the Hankeys felt they’d worked too hard at farming over the years to allow their land to be paved over and developed.
The way Mildred explains it, the Hankeys’ farming enterprise began on the first day of their marriage, when she was just 16 years old. “My husband bought this farm in 1943 when he was a senior in high school,” she explains. “We were married in this house in June of 1944 and have lived here ever since—it’ll be 72 years in June.
“We got married about 6 o’clock in the evening,” she remembers. “My mother made an angel food cake and brought some orange soda and ginger ale, and we went to a movie that night. The next morning our honeymoon was in the cow stable—we went to milk the cows.”
Dairy farming was the centerpiece of the Hankeys’ farming career for decades. “We started milking cows by hand, then we got the milkers,” says Mildred. “We milked those cows for 52 years.” Then, when the couple sold their dairy cows in 1996, they took down their fences and turned to field crops and hay. “We’ve been blessed to still be living on this farm and to have had the lives we’ve had,” she notes.
Land Conservancy Conservation Committee member Fran Koch has long been a neighbor of the Hankeys. “Kenneth and Mildred have been an amazing team,” she says. “Often both would be on their tractors working adjoining fields at the same time. They worked from sun up to sun down and milked cows twice a day. They always seemed to know exactly when to plant to grow a successful crop. The Hankeys are also good managers and use cover crops, contour strips, grass waterways, and terraces. Here in the neighborhood we’re very happy that Mildred and Kenneth have donated an easement on their farm, so that it’ll always be ‘the Hankey Place.’”
Today Kenneth Hankey is 92, and Mildred is 88. “The farm has been our life,” she says. “My husband never got a paycheck from anywhere—he never had a boss, I guess!”
“From start to finish, I think I’ve gone to meet with Kenneth and Mildred at their home five times so far,” says Boyer. “While it’s always nice to go meet with landowners in their homes and hear their stories about their properties and backgrounds, visiting with the Hankeys has been especially rewarding. Kenneth and Mildred always have a lot to share—about their farm, their lives, and what they hope their property will look like in the future. Thanks to the easements that we’ve crafted together, we’ve been able to ensure that their vision for the property will remain intact permanently. They’re genuinely good and interesting people and I always feel like I’ve learned something after leaving their house.
“Landowners have many different motivations for preserving their properties,” Boyer continues. “For some folks, it’s about protecting environmental habitats and water quality. For others, it’s about preventing scattershot development that eats up the land in inappropriate places. For others, and certainly for the Hankeys, preserving their properties has been about ensuring that the farm where Kenneth and Mildred have lived and farmed together for 72 years will always remain farmland. And really, who can argue with that?”