Galvanized by its agritourism and farming possibilities, three Lebanon County men were top bidders when historic Elizabeth Farms went to auction last month.
The 340-plus-acre Lancaster County farm, which dates from the Revolutionary War, is situated along Hopeland Road in the Brickerville area of Elizabeth Township.
It was sold Oct. 29, with friends Brian Boyd, Eric Fetter, and Justin Bollinger and their families purchasing two of the three parcels: a 100-acre tract for $2.95 million and a 56.7-acre site for $969,570.
When the trio learned online that Elizabeth Farms was being sold at public auction, they saw an opportunity, Boyd told LebTown.
“Bill Coleman has some great things going on there,” he said of the farmstead’s owner since 1976, an eighth-generation heir.
“We want to preserve that and add to it.”
A poultry farmer in South Lebanon Township who raises chickens for Bell & Evans, Boyd is chairman of the board of directors of MidAtlantic Farm Credit.
Fetter, a farmer with a degree in forestry, and Bollinger, an attorney who lives on a farm, bring their own areas of expertise to the partnership, he said.
The larger tract they bought includes the main house, a barn and other outbuildings, Boyd said. It’s where the annual Christmas tree experience is, with 6- to 14-foot Fraser and Douglas firs for visitors to buy.
He said the smaller parcel is open land that comes out on Route 501. The bulk of it is soybean fields with pasture, Fetter told LebTown.
“We’re thrilled to have them,” Boyd said of the two properties.
The largest parcel of the three, at 190.5 acres, was sold to David L. Sensenig, a Lititz-area farmer, for $3.42 million, LNP | LancasterOnline reported.
The agritourism potential of Elizabeth Farms is tremendous, Boyd said. “We love to host stuff, we love to get families out of the city into the fresh county air to see animals roaming and crops growing.”
Agritourism, which more farmers are relying on to subsidize revenues in a challenging climate, refers to the combination of farm activities and tourism to provide entertainment and recreation to the public. The U.S. Census of Agriculture first used the term in 2007.
In 2017, the last time the Census of Agriculture was taken, 28,575 farms offered agritourism and recreational services that produced $949 million in sales, up from $704 million in 2012.
The numbers almost certainly have grown substantially since. The next Census of Agriculture is in 2022.
Keep what’s working, and add more
Boyd said settlement on the parcels will be by the end of the year. In the meantime, the partners will help Coleman with Christmas season activities, which begin Nov. 20.
In addition to tree sales, this includes farm tours on a tractor-pulled wagon, pictures with Santa, a model train room, homemade strudel and complimentary hot chocolate.
“We’ll keep that,” Boyd said of the Christmas events, and further expand offerings to the public.
Some possibilities are hayrides, a corn maze and a pumpkin patch, he said. Right now “we’re trying to prioritize things.”
Boyd said they will do what they can to keep the farm-to-table restaurant at The Barns at Elizabeth Farms.
The land supports a Mangalitsa hog farming operation as well; he said the pigs aren’t theirs but they hope to maintain some of that. Fetter said the plan is to raise cattle, too.
At Hidden Spring Farm’s 15 acres in Kleinfeltersville, Fetter produces grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork, chicken, eggs and turkey. He also rents land in Schaefferstown and rotates his herd between properties.
He told LebTown that he’s dabbled in farming for 15 years “but got serious the last 10 years.”
Some of the 100-acre tract they acquired is woodland, and that can be managed for wildlife, said Fetter, who has a degree in forestry from Penn College of Technology.
He said the three families are very excited about the possibilities for Elizabeth Farms, and seeing what works. “It’s kind of endless if you really think about it.”
Bollinger told LebTown there was a lot of presale discussion among them about what it would cost to buy the parcels.
“We’re pleasantly surprised we came away with two,” he said. “We’re still kind of processing it.”
Like Boyd, he looks forward to the agritourism – or “agritainment” – possibilities, and “the opportunity to build on what Bill (Coleman) and his family started there.”
They’d like to expand offerings at the venue into additional seasons, he said. “There’s a desire for families with young kids to be in the great outdoors.”
Bollinger noted that taking over 157 acres of Elizabeth Farms and all that entails would have been a lot for one family.
But “we’re optimistic” the partnership among the three friends and their families, he said, will make it work.
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