Posted: April 20, 2022

This article, which offers suggestions for planning and carrying out restoration activities on a newly-purchased rural or agricultural property, is the second of two articles in a series. The first article offered advice on how to find and select rural or agricultural properties for restoration.

Paul Solomon on Wolf Farm, a property he restored in York County Pennsylvania

Paul Solomon on Wolf Farm, a property he restored in York County Pennsylvania


Purchasing and restoring a rural or agricultural property is a worthwhile and rewarding way to forge intimate connections with the natural world and leave a distinctive legacy that our families, friends, neighbors, and communities can enjoy well into the future. The first article in this two-part series offered advice on finding such properties. This article provides advice on how to embark on restoration of a property you have purchased, drawn from my experience in restoring eight properties totaling 1,126 acres over the past six decades. 

Steps in Restoring a Property 

A rural or agricultural property purchased with restoration in mind is likely to contain a diverse landscape with multiple land uses as well as several buildings in various states of repair. When getting started on restoration of such a property, the opportunities to improve the agricultural, environmental, historical, and aesthetic values seem boundless, as do the number of issues seeming to require immediate attention. In my experience, taking some time to develop a detailed knowledge of the property at the outset and then pursuing the restoration in phases or steps has been the most effective approach. 

Phase I. Perform a Comprehensive Assessment of the Property’s Features. 

  • Identify the major tracts of land and their characteristics to assign each a land use to which it is best suited.
  • Evaluate the historic features and structural soundness of each building to determine whether it potentially merits restoration or whether it should be removed.
  • Observe the water flow within and through the property under a variety of conditions, including the aftermath of torrential rainstorms. Determine the direction and magnitude of any runoff.

 Phase II. Address Structures or Landscape Characteristics Needing Urgent Attention. 

  • Take prompt action to either restore or demolish buildings which are structurally unstable and pose an immediate risk of hazard.
  • Identify and address any existing or potential water damage to buildings. Repair any roofs which may be leaking, as leaks may cause structural damage.
  • Intervene immediately to address landscape characteristics which contribute to significant stormwater runoff. Consult with a conservation expert (see below) to determine how best to alter the contours of the land to intercept and retain or infiltrate all runoff, thereby eliminating erosion on the property and discharges into local streams.

Phase III. Undertake a Comprehensive Clean-up. 

  • Remove all buildings that are not restorable or are otherwise undesirable, saving any reusable materials.
  • Clean out all buildings potentially to be retained. Doing so will improve the aesthetics and sanitary conditions of the buildings and can help uncover any issues or defects not already apparent.
  • Collect all debris located throughout the farm and discard it responsibly away from the property, recycling as much as possible. Consider renting a dumpster as well as making use of a dug-out fire pit for non-toxic material (open burning permit may be required) to enable debris to be removed from the site quickly and safely.

Phase IV. Establish Your Long-term Goals for the Property. 

Drawing on what you have learned about the property from your initial assessment, emergency interventions, and clean-up activities, develop a list of the land and building features you would like to retain and improvements you would like to make. In doing so, consider: 

  • The major agricultural activities you would like to undertake;
  • Your interests in attracting wildlife, a goal of many property restorers;
  • The types of spaces you would like to create for both active and passive recreation, if any; and
  • Your functional needs for buildings, depending on the planned uses of the farm.

Phase V. Develop Stewardship Plans for the Property that Reflect Your Goals. 

  • Obtain a conservation plan from your county’s Conservation District (CCD), with a particular focus on stormwater flow. Request that your county’s Conservation District prepare a conservation plan for your land with your input. Diversion terraces, contour strip cropping and grassed waterways are commonly recommended best management practices in such plans. After receiving the proposed plan, stroll through your property during a heavy rainstorm and note the direction and intensity of any runoff. If the Conservation Plan as written does not address all runoff issues, request changes as needed.
  • Design the landscape. Enhance the aesthetics, and thereby the value, of your property with thoughtfully designed landscaping efforts, particularly for the farmstead area. 
  • Remove unwanted, invasive, or otherwise undesirable shrubs and trees. Remove all stumps mechanically or treat with an herbicide to prevent regrowth.  
  • Consider planting native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and native grasses on land ill-suited for crops and at other locations to beautify the property and attract wildlife, including pollinators.  
  • Construct a pond or ponds. Ponds are attractive features of farm landscapes and provide recreational enjoyment for fishermen and observers of nature of all ages. 
  • Create wildlife habitat. Construct and place ornithologically correct wildlife boxes, plant food plots, and brush piles for wildlife cover in suitable locations. Retain snags, or wildlife cavity trees, where safe to do so. (A brush pile is most commonly designed as a collection of tree limbs or branches, organized in a latticework pattern, with logs and large limbs placed at the bottom and smaller limbs placed toward the top, within which woody vegetation such as leaves and twigs is interspersed.) 
  • Improve farm driveway(s) to reduce runoff and enhance aesthetics. Relocate or stabilize them and repair or enhance surfaces. Divert any runoff accumulating on driveway(s) by building suitably spaced breakers/water bars to direct water to safe outlets such as grassed waterways, rain gardens, or woodlands. Enhance the driveway with suitable plantings and stone structures. Consider a circular driveway or a gently curved driveway if the property lends itself to one, as these designs are more attractive than a straight driveway. 

The landscape design should specifically address lawn areas, keeping these to the minimum necessary for recreational and social functions or access. 

  • Obtain a forest management plan. Develop and design the forest management and planting initiatives needed on the property. Forests are among the most important features of rural properties, and as such should be given considerable attention in restorations. They contribute to air quality, stormwater mitigation, water quality, temperature regulation, property aesthetics, and wildlife habitat, while also providing economic, ecological, and social benefits to the community as well as the landowner. In Pennsylvania, most counties have a professional Service Forester who can advise you in the preparation of a Woodland Management Plan for woodlands or forests located on a property at your request. Cost sharing to implement best management practices may be available through county, state, or federal governments. 

Phase VI. Restore, Remove, or Replace Buildings as Needed. 

Restore, remove, or replace farm buildings, including the farmhouse, in accordance with your goals, with timing dependent on your individual needs and your budget. 

 Once you have found and purchased your special property, you can begin to imagine how you might enhance the landscape and structures to create a masterpiece of your own. 

Written by Paul Solomon, Pennsylvania Forest Steward and Master Watershed Steward, and Jeanne Riley, Pennsylvania Forest Steward and Center for Private Forests Council Member

Paul J. Solomon is a retired Shrewsbury Township Supervisor in York County, PA. His insights into restoration are based on a combination of hands-on experience and formal education and training. He has a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Agricultural Sciences and a Master’s degree in Regional Planning from Pennsylvania State University. He is a private forest landowner, a Pennsylvania Forest Steward, and a Master Watershed Steward. He resides in Shrewsbury Township, York County, PA, where he owns and operates a farm. Jeanne Riley is a Pennsylvania Forest Steward and volunteer Council member with the Center for Private Forests at Penn State. 

James C. Finley Center for Private Forests


416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802

James C. Finley Center for Private Forests


416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802