Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s Farming for the Future Conference – by Ian Gallo

March 18th, 2014

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s Farming for the Future Conferenceis one of the best sustainable agriculture conferences in the country. Every year, growers, processors, distributors, and researchers from Pennsylvania and the surrounding states congregate in State College for two days of workshops, discussions, a trade show, and, of course, a locally grown and fermented cocktail and cheese hour. Having to the conference before, I had great expectations and they were definitely met. I am studying sustainable agriculture at Messiah but have sort of drifted away from farming but the conference always has a way of reinvigorating my passion for working on the land and helping others do it well.

With more than 120 workshops their was no shortage of interesting topics. I attended lectures on everything from transitioning a farm to use animal power, specifically draft horses, to how attracting beneficial insects. The workshops that interested me the most however, was a series of lectures and discussions given by the manager of a buyer’s cooperative in Pittsburgh, where I grew up. There is a surging demand for locally produced items, specifically food. Over the last ten years farmers markets have exploded in popularity, doubling in number. This is an excellent way for consumers to purchase healthy, sustainably produced food while building a relationship with those who are growing it. However, most farmers markets only run from May-October and are limited in dry and bulk goods (oats, flour, oil, etc.) Many grocery stores are trying to meet this demand but are simply not moving fast enough. This is where a small buyer’s co-op can be so useful in sourcing local and healthy produce and foods year round. The series of lectures was on how distributors and growers can work together to benefit each other while supplying the consumer with a superior, local product. This sounds fairly simple but can be very difficult to navigate if managed poorly. The talks focused on the healthy aspects of a grower-distributor relationship and how it can be improved by understanding each other’s needs and  how distributors can market local products while educating consumers. I have definitely thought about working on the supply-side of local food for a while but this really peaked my interest. Distributors and suppliers are the real drivers of consumption habits and this is often overlooked when devising strategies to move towards a more sustainable food system. I would love to have a cafe/grocer or source food from local farmers for restaurants. The are many opportunities in this growing field and these lectures were a great primer to get guide my thoughts.

There were excellent keynote speakers both Friday and Saturday. Daphne Miller, M.D. gave a wonderful talk on Friday about the beneficial of food grown in soil that has a great diversity of microbes. The keynote on Saturday was given by a renowned Chilean agroecologist from UC Berkeley, Miguel Altieri, that has studied traditional and conventional agricultural models and trends in the global food system. Altieri gave one of the most thorough and educated critiques of conventional and transgenic agricultural that I have ever heard. He critiqued industry claims that conventional and transgenic agriculture is the only way to feed the growing population, biofuels are a viable substitute for fossil fuels as well as the reductionist approach to agricultural study. This was greatly refreshing and really helpful as I continue to think about the problems associated with conventional agriculture. Hearing this rousing talk with 2000 other like minded individuals is really motivating to say the least. I am really looking forward to exploring new topics I was turned onto as well as revisiting old thoughts as I continue to process what I learned.

Leave a Reply