As California and other parts of the country continue to run low on water, and as vast areas of farmland are destroyed by agribusiness practices, how are we to break our dependence on food produced outside Pennsylvania?
Let me be clear that I am talking about fresh fruits and vegetables, not processed food products.
Pennsylvania has a long history in agriculture. There are still many farms in the state. Of course, a great number of these farms are producing mostly corn and soybeans.
What can be done to create an atmosphere in which it is profitable for these farms to grow food for our state’s residents.
As is the case for any product, there is both supply and demand to be considered. If farms begin to grow more food for people, the people will buy it. This is the “if you build it, they will come” concept.
On the other side, there are consumers who are demanding locally grown, quality food.
Basically, I am talking about a return to the traditional way of feeding people. To accomplish this will take a tremendous amount of cooperation between growers and consumers. It will also require support and encouragement from state and local government, as well as nonprofit groups interested in making this work.
One example is the Fresh Connect program run by the Bucks County Opportunity Council, which conducts three weekly markets where fresh food is distributed to those who need it.
Rolling Harvest is a group of volunteers who glean produce from local farms who provide this service instead of wasting unsold crops.
I am a member of Pennypack Farm and Education Center, a CSA farm that, in addition to providing organic vegetables to it’s members, contributes thousands of pounds of produce annually to local food banks.
Our state government has numerous programs available to help farmers, including people who would like to enter the agricultural field.
The Penn State Extension Service provides invaluable information to farmers as well as home gardeners.
It’s wonderful that there so many people trying to help those who cannot afford enough quality food. But, more is needed. Everyone needs to eat, rich and poor alike.
State and local assistance to small farms needs to be increased. Consider how much, for example, a $25,000 grant to family farm could mean. It may be the difference between staying in business or shutting down the farm.
I would like our state government do a lot more to support the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement. This is an effective means of providing food for families. It is also a great way for young people to enter into farming.
Of course, we need to be concerned about feeding all people, but as someone once said, “If the beach is covered with stranded starfish, and we return just one to the sea, at least we’ve made a start.”
For starters, go to local harvest.org to find CSA farms near you. Since there are not enough of them, it is necessary to sign up early, probably at the end of the season for the next year.
Buckscounty.gov in association with the Penn State extension service provides a list of farms and farm markets.
Pennsylvania is the keystone state where our nation was born. We can be the forerunners in a movement to bring good food to all our citizen. Join the movement. Let it begin here, with us. Pick up your starfish.
Steve Leaventon, Doylestown