A Report from PASA | Civil Eats

A Report from PASA

We call it ‘hitting the reset button’ around the office. Each February, my sustainable farming colleagues and I count the days until we make the trek across the Delaware River and on to State College for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) Farming for the Future Conference. It’s not so much that we’re not surrounded by great farm and food business owners in our own area, it’s that spending three days surrounded by over 2,000 like-minded folks from across the northeast is an annual reassurance that we’re on the right track.

The attendees at this event represent 13 states and six countries. This year over 1,200 farmers attended. That’s an important number, and there were also many farmer’s market managers, butchers, regional planners, farmland preservationists, and distributors in attendance. The theme of this year’s event was “Finding your Foodshed” a term, as a person grounded in watershed management, I am not always so apt to adopt as an analogy. We don’t yet have the same connection to our foodways as we do our waterways. There is more work to be done to understand how an apple makes it to your grocery shelves than to understand the river that runs through your town or the source that runs out of your tap.  But this is changing.  After watching players from across the food system build connections for a few days at PASA, I was feeling a little more comfortable with the terminology.

Keynote speaker Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, brought a global perspective. He focused on the consistent challenges rural people face around the world by highlighting recent increases in obesity after years of using cheap food as a tool for oppression. Globally, there are as many people starving as there are struggling with obesity. Patel shared examples from India, Haiti and South Africa that were painful to consider. Taking a break to think about global agriculture served as a strong reminder of how much work remains in rebuilding an American food system.

One of the most exciting things at PASA is the variety of people attending: from Plain-sect families to urban gardeners. We are hearing more and more about younger people coming to sustainable and small farming events – and as a twenty-something myself I think that’s great. Surprisingly, there were also a number of second-career types at PASA. I met so many people who traveled many hours from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or New York City, who, when asked, “What do you grow?,” answered, “That’s what we’re here to find out.” Not a new phenomenon for sure but important to know that the PASA message is reaching so far.

As always, it’s the workshops at PASA that are the force behind attracting such a diverse audience. Over the three days I learned about charcuterie, county planning for agriculture, keeping statistics at the farmers market and the history behind FEDCO Seeds. As diverse as these topics might seem, I gained knowledge in each workshop that I will use both at home and at my job this coming season. This type of whole food system education is a great trend that we can hope will continue at events like this across the country.

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Challey Comer is the Farm to Market Manager at the Watershed Agricultural Council. Read more >

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