Todd Frye would like to see the land that his father rents remain a farm in perpetuity, but development already is creeping in along the edges.
A row of homes has sprouted along one of the fields on which Todd's father, Ralph Frye, has grown rows of corn and soybeans for the last 37 years in Unity.
"I was here first," the older Mr. Frye said when asked about how the neighbors react when he spreads cow manure on his fields.
Mr. Frye and his wife, Ann, have plenty of stories about raising their three sons on the farm. The boys would balk on mornings they had to get up at 6 to help their dad milk the cows. Todd was found asleep more than once in the laundry room where he was "putting his boots on." They found their oldest son, Jason, asleep in the hayloft.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, Todd Frye said, "We want to give our kids the type of lifestyle we had growing up."
Todd Frye and his wife, Carolyn, have started to set up shop on the land. They have four beehives in a row along a field of wildflowers near his parents' house. Another hive is up near the pine trees that run next to a field, and there is a sixth in a neighbor's berry patch.
On Wednesday afternoon, Todd Frye took a pry bar and a plastic bin out to one of the hives to remove a super, which is a section of the box filled with frames into which bees build chambers that they fill with honey.
Todd Frye, heavily dressed with special gloves and a netted hat, slowly took the setup apart, brushing bees from the frames and then placing the frames in the container to bring home.
The bees represent his first foray into a farm that he someday wants to own.
Ralph Frye works 187 acres that are contiguous to his barn. His three sons want to buy that land from the trust that owns it and put it into the Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. That means they would buy the land and immediately sell an easement to the state that calls for the land to be used for farming. The money from the easement would help them pay for the land.
Will Nichols, a spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture, said the program, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this past week, now preserves 480,089 acres of land for farming on 4,491 farms in 57 counties. Pennsylvania has 7.7 million acres of farmland.
The program started after voters approved a referendum on a $100 million bond issue in 1987. In 1999, voters agreed to take out a second $100 million bond for preservation called Growing Greener. A third bond issue for $80 million was approved at the ballot box in 2005.
Since then, the state has set aside money from the cigarette tax and from the Environmental Stewardship Fund, which is raised by use taxes such as on landfills, to help pay for the program that has cost $1.2 billion over the last 25 years. In 2013, the state has $28.8 million available to preserve farmland.
Mr. Nichols said the prices paid for the easement vary depending on the development pressure, so that land closer to urban areas garners more than easements on land farther out.
Ralph Frye runs a dairy farm with the majority of his crops going to feed the cows, but his sons have different plans for the property.
Todd Frye wants to get away from the dairy business, which demands that the farmer be there twice a day for milking. Instead he would like to raise beef cattle, pigs and lamb, all for meat. Another part of the business would grow vegetables for sale. His wife wants to keep some of the dairy business going to produce cheese from the farm.
Both of them would like to open a store that sells locally grown produce, meats and their honey. And they want to make sure that Ralph Frye remains a part of the operation.
"He's the knowledge base," Todd Frye said.
For now they are working on the bee business, selling Pleasant Lane Farm honey out of their home less than a mile from the farm.
Todd Frye extracts the honey in his garage by first slicing the wax that capped the cells, then placing the frames into an extractor that spins them, separating the honey from the cells by centrifugal force.
He opens a valve at the bottom to allow the honey to flow through two screens into a bucket. Then he runs it through a third screen. The yield was about 15 pounds of honey from the one set of frames. The six hives produce about 300 pounds of honey a year.
As the business grows, the plan is to add hives and build a honey house on the land they someday hope to farm.
Todd Frye is working with his brothers Jason, who sells software in Washington, D.C., and Chad to negotiate a price on their father's farm land. Eventually he would like to move into a new house he would build on the farm so his children could run right to the barn as he once did.
Ann Belser: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1699. First Published October 12, 2013 8:00 PM