Remembering Herb Cole, Jr.
The farmland conservation community lost an influential champion when Herbert Cole, Jr., 88, died August 19. Herb and April Cole in 2006 donated a conservation easement on their 100.27 acres of field, woodland and mountain in Haines Township, and influenced two nearby landowners to conserve another 200 acres.
“He had a sense that land is something irreplaceable,” said Larry Hutchinson, a trustee of the Centre County Farmland Trust who served on the board with Cole. “Let’s take care of it. Let’s do the best thing by this land, and for him the best thing was bringing it into agricultural easement.”
Finding a Love of Land & Wildlife
Cole spent his earliest years in Brooklyn, New York, but loved spending summers and weekends on a family farm in Stone Church, Pa.
There, he developed a lifelong passion for fishing and hunting. He trapped to earn money for college as he attended high school in Bangor, Pa.
“That’s, I think, where he got the idea of farming and love of land and wildlife,” said April Cole. She and Herb Cole were married 28 years and had a blended family of seven children.
Cole attended Penn State University, earning his bachelor’s, masters and Ph.D. degrees then working and serving for 50 years as a researcher, educator, consultant and administrator in the College of Agricultural Sciences. He served as head of the Department of Plant Pathology for seven years, authored more than 250 publications and received numerous awards.
“He devoted his spare time to hunting, fishing, biking and doing anything that let him be out on the land,” according to his obituary.
Cole maintained farms in Stone Valley near Shavers Creek and in Penns Valley. He often hunted elk in Wyoming and owned land there.
The Coles did not want their land to be developed, nor it to fall to hands that would not care for it. They wanted to ensure farming that feeds people, protects wildlife and is destroyed for urban development.
When they purchased their farm in 2005, they built a house and set out to correct erosion problems, clean up old equipment and trash from a dump, and to practice proper crop rotation.
Stewarding the Land
The land is now rich in wildlife, and the water in its stream runs clear. April Cole is a wildlife photographer who has captured images there of an adult female black bear and her cubs, bobcats, deer, a turtle, and many species of birds including a bald eagle, hawk, bluebirds, indigo bunting and red-headed woodpecker.
Part of the land is in USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which provides an incentive for farmers to remove some land from production and establish permanent resource conserving plant species.
Another part is leased to a local farmer who rotates crops of hay, alfalfa, soybeans and corn.
The Coles also shared a love of hunting, traveling and biking.
'What will happen to this farm in 25 years? 50 years?'
Cole and Hutchinson both served as department heads within Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Cole was a helpful and productive CCFT board member, who persuaded land owners to donate conservation easements.
One is a neighboring property of 21.79 acres, owned by Melvin and Sara King. Another is 189 acres conserved by April’s uncle, Dale Stover in 2016.
Cole had worked hard to convince another owner who died before the land could be conserved.
“He changed the mindset for some folks in the eastern end of the county for whom the thought of having an easement on their property was a wild thought,” said Hutchinson. “But he was willing to stand around and talk to them, and eventually some of them changed their perspective.”
Cole’s time in Wyoming gave him an appreciation for what large, unspoiled tracts of land could be, said Hutchinson. He had wanted to conserve the farmland in Huntingdon County, where he and April lived for 13 years, but could not find a partner organization.
Herb would visit with people and ask: What do you see happening to this farm in 25 years when you’re retired? Or 50 years? “That was the foot in the door he used in talking with his neighbors about what needed to happen,” said Hutchinson. Cole could connect with people from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Herb was one of those few people who could effectively bridge that gap,” said Hutchinson.
He liked to describe himself as a “gentle bulldozer,” said April Cole. “He was kind and patient and he knew how to keep working with people persistently until they grasped the idea that he was trying to help them understand. He would meet people and talk about the organization and what it did, then if they were interested he would follow up with contacts.”
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