What a resource! Ag Center is one-stop facility
Posted: July 10, 2012
Faith Peterson, former capital campaign chairperson, believes "the Ag Center is one of the most visited buildings in the county because of all the services it provides."
The building, which was erected in 2000 and designed by architect Gary W. Shaffer, is built to serve as a learning ground for the public and producers alike. In 1997 a steering committee took it upon themselves to realize the dream, need and desire for a one-stop agricultural facility. With 550 donors and an enthusiastic community the committee was able to raise over $400,000 towards the construction of the building.
Former capital campaign chairperson Faith Peterson, from Abbottstown recalls “Extension, 4-H, the Conservation District and NRCS came to the board of commissioners to address space problems in 1994, at a time when all the offices were scattered in different locations. They decided to propose a ‘one stop shop’ facility where all agricultural services could be grouped together, and so the idea of an Ag Center was born.”
Today the Ag Center houses the Adams County Conservation District, Adams County Environmental Services, Penn State Cooperative Extension, Adams County Agricultural Land Preservation Program, Land Conservancy of Adams County and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center which includes the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
All of these agencies are able to provide information and services for the public from the backyard grower or new resident interested in growing, sustaining or up keeping their property to small and large scale producers who would like to establish conservation practices or are in need of loans. Former Adams County commissioner George Weikert believes “the Ag Center is one of the most visited buildings in the county because of all the services it provides.”
Sharon Hull, Administrative Assistant at the Conservation District, and the first friendly face one sees upon entering the District office, located upstairs in the rear of the building, says that “we’re all tied together.” She deals with an array of needs such as “when someone comes in for a blue bird box—I’ll send them to Extension and downstairs as well. There’s a wealth of information. When farmers come in to USDA for a conservation plan they may also need advice on recycling old tires or pesticides and maybe they have disease on their trees so I send them to Bicky Redman for the advice she provides and to the Extension staff; it’s a cycle. We’re all here and working together.”
The Conservation District has programs such as a tree seedling sale, compost bins and rain barrels, they sell blue bird nest boxes, provide school kits for Environmental Services and also do demonstrations such as Trout in the Classroom. They conduct the annual Adams County Envirothon, which engages all of the school districts and also sends an Adams County team to the State Environthon. Their technicians work closely with the Agricultural Land Preservation Board and the Land Conservancy of Adams County both of which are involved with preserving large and small tracts of farm land and establishing conservation plans for land owners. Also situated downstairs is Adams County Environmental Services which deals with recycling and supporting the improvement of environmental practices in Adams County.
Penn State Cooperative Extension offers science-based education for ag producers and consumers, including programming in the areas of Youth Leadership Development, Home Gardening, Community Development, Consumer Sciences/Nutrition and Sustainable Ag Production and Marketing Practices. 4-H provides a large array of programs for 8-18 year olds with Animal Clubs, Community Clubs and Special Interest Clubs. Family Consumer Sciences is aimed at improving lifestyles through nutrition and active lifestyle programs. Community Development works with a variety of groups and organizations to build and increase capacity, such as the Adams County Community and Economic Development Partnership.
Farm sustainability, the development of innovative production technologies and bringing in a new generation of producers are addressed through the Adams County Ag Innovations initiative launched following a summit of community members concerned about the future of agriculture in the county. According to Tara Baugher, “a key component of the initiative was the development of the Young Grower Alliance through which Extension offers support for producers transitioning their farms to the next generation.”
Penn State extension’s vital core is its county-based delivery system. Working in collaboration with diverse partnerships—including county commissioners, commodity groups, nonprofits, government agencies, volunteers, and clients—this unified, focused structure enables Extension to efficiently bring all college resources to bear in meeting stakeholder needs.
The USDA Service Center on the north side of the building is home to NRCS and FSA― two organizations dealing mostly with the needs of producers. The FSA deals with financial programs, subsidies and loans whereas the NRCS is more technically oriented helping producers install irrigation ponds or concrete barn floors. James Gillis, District Conservationist at NRCS, says the Ag Center has benefits for clients as well as employees, “working here we’ve got this entire network with virtually every type of technical assistance a producer would want except buying seeds or fertilizer. We [at the Ag Center] are all aware of what we’re all doing creating potential for cooperation and as a result providing a lot better service to producers.”
The Master Gardener program trains volunteers in a Penn State Extension curriculum on a range of gardening projects. These volunteers educate other community members through demonstrations on pest control, composting, plant selection, soil improvement, tree pruning and care, etc. They are also involved with a Trial and Demonstration Garden out front of the Ag Center. This Garden, open to the public and located next to the walking trail along Old Harrisburg Road, is set up for testing plants for growth, habit, flowering time and insect/disease resistance with special plots for vertical gardening for vegetables, pollinator friendly flowers and a plot incorporating the five senses― plants one can touch, smell, see, hear and taste! There are also community rented plots for individuals to create their own vegetable gardens.
Other areas of the Ag Center grounds are joint efforts to teach about preservation and conservation of agricultural and natural resources in Adams County and energy efficiency. As one enters the building, to the right and left is a Native Plant Garden with perennial plants and tree shrubs of local plants, enhanced by a Rain Garden between parking areas to control run-off from the parking lot. The Ag Center also utilizes rain barrels, a detention basin and a bio-retention pond for roof and storm water storage. A Grassed Swale in the rear of the building demonstrates how a small channel can replace traditional piping or curbing for storm water runoff. At the rear of the building and in an auxiliary parking lot, permeable concrete and plastic pavers are used to aid in runoff.
The building is also equipped with two large solar panels, a solar water heater and an air conditioning system that produces ice during off-peak hours, which is stored and used during building office hours. The solar photovoltaic system in the front of the building is a 2.8kW system set on a dual axis tracker to follow the sun throughout the day, while at the rear of the building there is a 8.4kW system which is stationary. Together, the two systems generate 11.2kW to aid in supplying the electrical power to the building.
With all these agencies and preservation practices, inside and out, this is truly an agricultural and natural resource center. No matter what your interest there is bound to be an office with informative publications and/or a specialist to engage in conversation. As Sharon Hull says “agriculture and natural resources are interlaced, and where else would you go for all these services.”
Sladjana Prozo is the Ag Innovations Program Manager at Penn State Extension serving Adams County. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workplace. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 334-6271 or (888) 427-0261, email AdamsExt@psu.edu.