Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Meeting

COUNTRY FOLKS Of Pennsylvania
Ann R. Swanson
February 28, 2000

Members of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture held their 9th annual conference “Farming for the Future” at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center in early February.

Timothy Bowser, Program Coordinator for PASA, announced the largest registration ever for the conference. He also announced that the 2nd Annual Rotational Grazing Feast was sold out.

“This conference is about “People, fairness, and justice,” said Bowser. “The next agricultural revolution is about to begin.”

Preston Boop, owner/operator of Briar Patch Organic Farms in Mifflinburg and President of PASA, gave the opening address.

“We are living in a time that is changing more than most of us realize,” Boop said. “The computer you buy today is outdated by next month. Farmers today work 60-80 hours per week and earn less for their produce and have less disposable income to spend. Products are selling at 1970 prices. Everyone else wants to earn more and work less. That is not happening for the farmer.”

“We need a plan for survival. We must function as a team. PASA works as a team with its members. I am excited about shared experiences and the knowledge exchanged through PASA and through this conference,” said Boop.

Secretary Lyn Garling gave the outlook for PASA 2000. “Reclaiming the PASAbilities” is the conference theme. “To do this we need to build relationships. Individuals are important. Do not underestimate the power of the personal positive proactive people that are part of this organization,” she said.

“We need to reclaim the marketplace. Through the Community Farm Initiative this process is underway. We are creating a consumer/farmer relationship by elimination the middleman. Consumers go face-to-face with the farmer who produces the food,” said Garling.

Garling also announced a partnership between PASA and the Penn State Dean of the College of Agriculture. A panel from other land-grant colleges met with Dean Robert Steele and PASA representatives to see what can be done to expand sustainable agriculture. The group agreed to meet four times a year.

There are also farm based education committees that promote sustainable agriculture. People want to know how to do it. Sustainable agriculture is proud to have been the feature of some television specials during the past year. Steve Groff who operates Cedar Meadow Farm in Lancaster County was the subject of a PBS special “Journey to Planet Earth,” Groff has been a member of PASA as well as having served on the board.

Dr. Shiva from India speaks from Real Life Experiences.

The keynote speaker at the opening session was Dr. Vandana Shiva of New Delhi, India. Ms. Shiva is a world-renowned advocate for farmers, the environment, women, and freedom. She was a recent delegate to the World Trade Organization proceedings in Seattle.

In her homeland she organizes sustainable farmer training cooperatives, oversees the creation of a seed bank network, and has been busy fending off Monsanto's attempt to acquire the water rights to much of the agriculture in India.

“You are doing the things we are doing in India,” she told conference attendees. “It is hard to meet normal people like you.”

In reference to the announcement made by PASA about the Rally for Rural America to be held in Washington in March Ms. Shiva said, “Clinton will be in India then. I think he should not go. He needs to hear the message of the rural community. He should stay home and listen to the message of the American farmers.”

According to Ms. Shiva, “The simplest way to save farms is to shut Wall Street down. Wall Street has become a casino economy. Healthy systems do not grow at that rate, but viruses do.”

As to the five biotech companies Ms. Shiva reports that she has a debate with them every couple months. “They do not like this woman from India,” she said.

“My knowledge does not come from agricultural textbooks. It comes from real life experiences.” said Shiva. “Most of the world does not live on $1 a day as the propagandists say. They live on biodiversity. Biodiversity produces all you need to live.”

Shiva went on to say, “You can't look at just one product. You have to look at the total production. Biodiversity works. We need multiple outputs for balanced diets. Diversity controls pests. Using pesticides means more pest problems. Remember hybrids do not reproduce. Farmers cannot save the seed and get more of the same.”

Shiva quoted various studies to drive home the point that small farms are more productive than large ones. They produce better food, make less pollution, and create healthier communities.

Shiva believes the laws of free trade need to be rewritten. Global trade laws supercede the right of the individual to produce a safe food supply.

Sam Hayes, Secretary of Agriculture, attended several segments of the conference. He attended the annual meeting where he addressed the audience. The group welcomed Hayes attendance. This is the first time he has been in attendance.

Five directors were elected to the board: Kim Knorr-Tait, Paul Hauser, Kim Seeley, Lee Bentz, and Carolyn Sachs.

The Rotational Grazing Feast featured food donated by more organic producers than ever before. Approximately fifty producers from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, and West Virginia supplied organically produced meat, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, fruit, maple syrup and more. Food was also donated for a social hour, a bag lunch, and breakfasts.

One conference participant remarked, “I have never eaten such high quality food, in such abundance, and with such a variety. Meals offered featured both vegetarian selections as well as meat entrees.

Lucy and Roman Stoltzfoos of Lancaster County received the Eighth Annual Pennsylvania Sustainable Agriculture Leadership Award. The Stoltzfoos family operates an organic dairy and are grassland farmers. They revolutionized their dairy economy when they began composting manure. Stoltzfoos presented a seminar “The Real Green Revolution: A Holistic, Profitable, Grass-based Organic Dairy System.

More than forty exhibitors took part in the trade show exhibiting a wide array of items and services. The show was open for both days of the show with industry representatives manning the booths and disseminating information. Exhibits were set up in the Dean's Hall as well in the hall areas adjacent to the Presidents Hall and main lobby.

The two-day conference closed with a keynote address by John Todd. “This conference gives me some reason to hope,” said Todd. “We need to take ecological design in old neighborhoods. We need to do more with less. Our planet needs healing. That can be done through a program of earth stewardship.”