Five-year agriculture census shows Pa. lost thousands of farms

Pennsylvania has lost more than 3,800 farms between 2007 and 2012, according to the latest federal agriculture census.

But the agriculture industry in Lancaster County is thriving, as farmers evolve to stay in business.

Lancaster’s Central Market is a farmer’s dream. Three days a week, it attracts crowds of people who clamor for local produce, meats and dairy products.

As Ryan Meck of Meck’s Produce can tell you, getting these products to consumers is far from easy.

“We do a little bit of everything, we wholesale, we have some restaurants that we take care of, quite a number of them,” he said. “This is our main business here though, at market, but then over the summer, we do have a roadside stand.”

Nowadays, it’s the key to staying in business as a farmer. Some contributing factors to the loss of thousands of farms in Pennsylvania, over that five-year period: consolidation of smaller farms and a period of high feed prices and low milk prices, which forced dairy farmers to sell their cows.

Those conditions pushed sixth-generation farmers Andrew and Mary Mellinger of Linden Dale Farms to reinvent their dairy farm business to a cheese-making operation and popular market stand.

“With switching from cows to goats, gave us the niche market and to then to actually add value to that goat milk and turn it into cheese,” Mary Mellinger said.

Small, niche market farms like Linden Dale are actually growing, and shoppers at Central Market are making sure of that.

“It benefits the community, the local farmers and it definitely benefits your wallet to shop local,” said Allison Bittner, a Central Market shopper.