It’s not many miles from rural western Chester County to Harrisburg. But for former state Rep. Art Hershey, R-13, Cochranville, the journey from being a young farmer on rented land to a 14-term representative in the House was more than a few quick trips west to his legislative seat.
His life has been filled with joy, love, faith, a lot of cows and a great deal of public service. Looking back, Hershey, 76, said he wanted to share those memories with his children and grandchildren, so he decided to write an autobiography.
His recently published book, “From the Farm to the House,” records his experiences from his youth through his retirement from politics. He visited the Oxford Area Senior Center last Friday to talk about it, sign copies and answer questions from the members.
Hershey said he came from a came from a large family of modest means with eight siblings. The house had electricity but no running water.
He began his life as a farmer in Lower Oxford on land he and his wife, Joyce, rented from the Shepherd family.
“But when your farm is rented, what you do is dictated by the landlord,” he said.
Therefore, he worked hard and bought a farm in 1965.
In the course of his farming career, he got interested in public policy and the American Farm Bureau.
“There are powerful lobbies, but not for farmers. The price is dictated by the market. You buy retail and sell wholesale,” he said.
That prompted him to take extension courses and study land use in the 1970s. In three successive years and he studied local, state and national land use.
In 1981, he ran for a seat in the state House of Representatives. He said he was told by a friend to call up 10 people every night and say he was “thinking” of running for the state legislature. He was careful to listen to what they had to say.
In 1982 he was nominated, elected and was re-elected to that seat 13 times. In that time he got 10 bills passed, chaired the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, the Rural Affairs Committee, the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee. He also authored the state’s Clean and Green Bill to preserve agricultural and forest land.
Hershey talked fondly of his love of farming and that he fought to protect farmers from being shut down in municipalities where residents didn’t like the odors and sounds of agriculture. “The farms were there before they were,” he said.
He said he has also been protective of the mushroom industry from pressure to put their composting and growing processes totally under roof. He studied that procedure in Belgium, but found out that the government pays for one-half of it, and that it is questionable how successful it is.
Hershey said his faith, hobbies and family have always been important to him, so he included them in his book. He also has pictures and stories of local events including the great Cochranville tire fire, which went on for weeks.
He spoke often on Friday about the role of government in regulating farming and expressed some cynicism about the effectiveness, especially of paying people not to grow certain crops.
Hershey said he has always been curious about history, communities and how humans treat their land.
He mentioned farmers over-using their land, which depleted the topsoil, which led to the dustbowl. He also told the story of tree farmers mowing down forests, which led to fires in the top layers of peat moss, which led to ground in Pennsylvania that was suited only for growing evergreens.
In the question-answer period, several members of the center expressed concerns about immigration reform. Hershey said he supported a bill that would require that they register, send away felons, charge a fine for illegals, and require that they learn English and apply for citizenship. He added that an across-the-board deportation of all undocumented residents would be disastrous to some industries.
Hershey and the members also discussed the value of work and that giving too much support to those out of work can discourage them from seeking jobs. “We’re ;paying people too much not to work,” he added.
After his talk, he signed copies of the book.
That book can be purchased for $19 from the Lancaster Mennonite Society, from Hershey himself at 610-593-2053 or the Masthof Press north of Honeybrook.