PASA conference is basically “a huge family reunion” for local food community

Posted by Jordan Reabold on 02/10, 2014 at 09:37 AM

Auctions for a variety of local food wares was a part of the Farming for the Future Conference.

For twenty-three years, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, otherwise known as PASA, has been gathering for its very own Farming for the Future Conference. Last week vendors from all over the country congregated at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center to attend workshops, participate in auctions, listen to guest speakers, receive awards, and to simply share their appreciation of farming as a whole.

Lauren Smith, director of development for PASA, says her favorite aspect of the annual conference is that it’s like “a huge family reunion.” Indeed, the majority of farmers and businesses in attendance have previously come to the conference, so many of them are familiar with one another. Lauren explains, “We have an amazing community of farmers. They become a network of ideas and inspiration.”

Certainly, with the variety of businesses present, all offering their expertise on the practice of farming, it has become a learning experience where everyone can share ideas while learning countless innovations that they can take home with them. Many of the vendors attended workshops, where they learned a variety of techniques.

Jamie Emmerson, who came all the way from Vermont to represent High Mowing Organic Seeds, elaborated on one of the workshops she attended. Her particular learning experience focused on soil conservation, which of course pertains to her business, being that High Mowing Organic Seeds produces seeds for professional growers. With great enthusiasm, she described what she thought was an “interesting demonstration” that compared tilled soil versus no-till by pouring water over samples of both. Jamie explained, “With no-till soil, the substrate is more in tact,” and therefore, it can better absorb the water.

The tilled soil, on the other hand, showed a significant fault as the water drained. “I couldn’t believe that the samples looked exactly the same!” she admitted. But after the demonstration, it became obvious just how significant the difference between till and no-till really is.

Sam Moll, who spoke on behalf of Rodale Institute, elaborated on a particular workshop that placed its focus on biodynamics, which is “a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, food production and nutrition.”  Rodale Institute prides itself in being “certified organic,” which was apparent in the vast majority of vendors present at the PASA conference. “Biodynamics is a new venture for us,” Sam explained. “The more you know about the biology of the soil, the more nutritious the food is.”

Peace Tree Farm was included in the vendors that boast “certified organic.” Candy Traven, speaking for Pennsylvania’s own Peace Tree Farm, stated, “We sell starter plants. Getting a good start is critical, especially for stuff that’s hard to germinate.”

Clearly, not only were business owners learning new techniques, but they were educating others on what they already know. Plus, these farmers were offering their products to the State College community.

Wild for Salmon was among the numerous vendors that benefited from the conference in terms of sales. Their salmon comes from Alaska, but because it’s sold by a local business, it’s offered at a reasonable price. If you missed out on the conference, they’re present every Tuesday at the Boalsburg Farmer’s Market! However, they explained that salmon is seasonal, and they’ll probably sell until April or May. Regardless, Wild for Salmon is a great reminder that ‘local food’ isn’t restricted to just produce.

Speaking of local, our very own Tait Farms was present, and Tyler Kulp made it clear that he was proud to offer State College’s local products to the entire conference. “I think it’s inspirational,” Tyler said. “We love to participate with the community in any way we can.”

To Tait Farms people, the PASA Farming for the Future Conference is “the highlight of winter. It’s a way to reconnect with old friends, and we love to participate with the community in any way we can.”

You can find Tait products at Harrison’s Wine Grill, Otto’s, Elk Creek, Gamble Mill, the State College Farmer’s Market, and their very own farm store.

A number of local farms and restaurants from State College donated to the conference’s auction, offering gift cards and even their own products. There was a bag auction with tickets, a silent bidding auction, and a live auction, which brought in $12,306 alone.

The opportunity for local farms to exhibit their products while learning about sustainability and innovative methods of farming seems to be entirely beneficial. It makes sense to hold the conference in State College, where so many of us take advantage of the local food that’s right here in our backyards. According to Lauren Smith, the main incentive to buy local food is to “keep farmers on the land.” So long as we support farms, farms will support us—an act that PASA would undoubtedly refer to as “Letting Nature Lead.”

{name} Author: Jordan Reabold

Bio: Tamaqua, Pennsylvania native - English major at Penn State - Loves cupcakes, coffee, and campfires"

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