Peeping in the Brooder Box – Issue #5

Reminder – Downtown Farmers Market Today

State College Borough Building, 243 S. Allen St., 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Reminder – First Spring Reskilling Workshop -Heritage Seed-Saving – this Sunday April 1

Space limited – $10 suggested donation – two ways to pre-register:

  • By phone – 237-0996
  • By email – katherine_watt@hotmail.com

Sun., April 1 – Heritage Seed Saving & Seed Starts – Friends Meeting House, 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. (Ingrid Fowles, Brian Burger, Addison Hoffman, Matt Sullenberger, Ian Gardner)

FULL WORKSHOP SCHEDULE

Reminder – Food Cooperative Survey Closes April 1

If you haven’t yet filled it out, please do! Update from Greta Righter – “…We are still conducting some in person surveys (we were at the Boalsburg market this week and had some great conversations and feedback). We are also finding helpful ‘case studies’ of recently started coops with very detailed outlines of their history. We’ll be working over the next week to compile this into an easier to read table, and will soon begin to analyze the survey data. Looking forward to gathering together again!”

Reminder – Permablitz in Millheim April 7 – Blitzers Eagerly Sought

The Centre Region Permaculture Guild, led by Jackie Bonomo and Lindsey Aumiller, is organizing a permablitz at The Penns Valley Learning Garden on Sat., April 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., to install a forest garden consisting of fruit trees and shrubs, plus companion plants. Jackie writes: “We’ve already got a design, and we’re busy gathering the materials for sheet-mulching the area and the trees and other plants for what’s called the “guild,” which is a group of plants and even insects that work well together, using the same resources as the main plant, often in interrelated ways. We’ll put the forest garden in place while learning-by-doing about sheet mulching, companion plantings, creating swales for water retention, and Hugelkultur (a fun word for making raised garden beds filled with rotting wood).”

Sign up and/or donate contributions to purchase trees and shrubs by emailing or call Katherine Watt (katherine_watt@hotmail.com/237-0996) or emailing Julie Mason (julie.mason1@gmail.com). Current committed blitzers:

  • Jackie Bonomo, Permaculture Designer
  • Brian Burger, Penns Valley Learning Garden manager
  • Julie Mason, Penns Valley Learning Garden manager
  • Pat Leary
  • Amy Hasan
  • Warren Leitzel
  • John Katunich
  • Suzanne Ritter
  • Christine Donahue
  • Lisa Beherec
  • Jennifer Tucker
  • Lisa Marshall
  • Mollie Baines (maybe)
  • Charlene Klase
  • Jim & Cathy Pierce
  • Kristin & Steve Hoy
  • Annie Misceli
  • Curt Buergin and Joanna
  • Bobby Raggazino
  • Mary Ellen McMahon

PSU Farm-to-Table Update – March 28 Meeting Report

From left, John Mondock, Lisa Wandel, Mick Kodner, Bob Ricketts, Laura Young

[Editor’s Note: I made a few revisions to this report on April 1 based on feedback from John Mondock, mostly about  hours of operation for residential dining offices and facilities.]

Laura Young kicked off the meeting – held at her and Jay’s house – with some background about the January 12 meeting at  Penn State’s residential dining offices,  highlighting a main idea that came out of that meeting: Penn State food buyers are very interested in buying more local food, and eager to meet farmers halfway to make it happen. They’re even open to adjusting current practices to deal constructively with problems that emerge while the relationships develop. They just want to get started.

Laura said she contacted a lot of local vendors through her local food networks and that those present were just the “tip of the iceberg” of farmers who may be interested in selling to Penn State to help stabilize their incomes with a steady, reliable market, especially for food not being sold at farmers markets.

The participants included:

  • Jay and Laura Young of Young American Growers in Spring Mills, North Atherton Farmers Market, and co-owners of a new slaughterhouse.
  • Lisa Wandel – PSU Residential Dining Director
  • John Mondock – PSU Residential Dining Purchasing Director
  • Chuck Mothersbaugh and Marie Hornbein of Mothersbaugh Farm in Spring Mills
  • Jim Eisenstein of Jade Family Farm in Port Royal
  • Mark Ardry of Ardry Farm in Howard
  • Janet Robinson of The Piper’s Peck in Bellefonte and the State College Friday Downtown Farmers Market
  • Emmanuel Zucker of Sunset Valley Farm in Perry County
  • Harold Kreider of Kreider Farm in Thompsontown
  • Levi Ash of Spring Mills
  • Jacob and Sara Stoltzfus of Spring Mills
  • Mark Maloney of Greenmoore Gardens in Port Matilda
  • Bob Ricketts of Fasta Pasta
  • Mick Kodner of Dancing Creek Farm in Port Royal
  • Dave Cranage – PSU Hospitality program, Café Laura
  • Jeremy Bean – PSU Campus Sustainability Office

Lisa and John said 14,000 students live on campus, eating in five dining halls open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Their office also buys food for 11 commonwealth campuses, serving another 14,000 customers. And students are getting more interested in seasonal, local foods, especially roasted vegetables, especially Brussels sprouts (introduced last fall to enthusiastic consumption).

BIDDING – Bid sheets go out by fax Mondays and Thursdays, listing pounds of each item sought. Bids from vendors are due by 9 a.m. Tuesday for Friday delivery, and by 9 a.m. Friday for Tuesday delivery (the purchasing office is staffed 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.)

Most produce is currently purchased from wholesale vendors around the state, who buy it from producers at auction. After the bids are accepted, non-winning vendors can call in to find out what the winning bid was, as a way of estimating price points for the next round. Payment turnaround averages 14 days. (Even though the winning bids aren’t available to anyone who hasn’t placed a bid, John said he could put together average prices for the previous month, to provide ballpark figures for farmers trying to figure out if bidding is worth it for their available products.)

John said that although Penn State buyers can pay a small percentage premium for PA-produced food, they might not be able to pay farmers market prices. But since currently produce is bought from vendors who buy at wholesale auctions where local farmers already sell some of their non-farmers-market produce, prices will probably be comparable.

Crop overages can be quickly and easily absorbed by the scale of the biweekly purchases, rather than rotting, to be composted or turned back under the field. There’s even a market for over-ripe or blemished produce; kitchen staff often make spaghetti sauce and salsa from just-past-prime tomatoes, in an effort to reduce waste and wring every bit of nutrition from students’ meal plan dollars banked in August each year.

TRANSPORTATION – Residential dining has a central warehouse, which could be the drop point for farmers’ deliveries, or, if it’s easier, they could deliver to the dining hall that’s going to use the delivered food. Farmers could also partner with each other, to pool their products and make one delivery on behalf of several farms. The central warehouse is open for deliveries Monday through Fridays 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; individual dining halls are staffed daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Food must be packed in closed boxes for stacking in coolers. For other packaging and handling standards, Dave Cranage has a 16-page “standard operating procedures” document he used when selling Rock Springs farm produce to dining halls when it wasn’t needed for Café Laura. He’s happy to share it with farmers considering selling to Penn State. And the university is more than willing to save boxes for farmers to pick up and reuse for the next delivery, to save on packaging costs.

Delivery drivers also already stop to pick up some supplies (although not yet fresh produce) while they’re driving across the state between campuses, because they’re going past anyway. So pick-up might be another option for farmers unable to arrange their own deliveries, depending on how far they are from established delivery routes.

CUSTOM GROWING – John and Lisa said they’d also be interested in working with farmers to arrange custom growing, planning ahead together in January and February so farmers can buy seeds and prepare fields to grow crops for the dining halls and sell them at a pre-arranged price, “like a giant CSA.”  Staff are currently preparing menus for the Fall 2012 semester, Lisa noted – menus are planned far in advance and are also flexible enough to deal with variable crop productivity.

CHICKEN PROCESSING – Penn State must buy USDA-inspected chicken, but there are no USDA inspection facilities in the Centre region. So there’s a need for a stationary or mobile unit, perhaps owned by a cooperative of farmers, able to run it one or two days per month and freeze the chicken for sale to PSU.

DAIRY – Dairy products for the University Park campus are all purchased from the Creamery, but the commonwealth campuses purchase from outside vendors, so farmers closer to, say, Harrisburg, could put in bids to supply the Harrisburg kitchens.

FOOD HUB VISION – Dave also mentioned that he’s obtained software useful for organizing a food hub: a single, warehouse-style building to facilitate food commerce. Using the software, farmers could get online and post that they have 300 pounds of tomatoes for sale; restaurant buyers could review available produce, and place an order for, say, 200 pounds, while home cooks could also access the site and order smaller household quantities.

Farmers would then deliver all produce ordered to a single location, where buyers would come to pick it up. The facility could also house CSA farm deliveries and pick-ups. Farmers markets could set up in there for all-weather sales. There could be value-added facilities for food processing, and facilities for restaurants to drop off compostable scraps and farmers to pick up finished compost.

MAIN POINT – “Pretty much anything we grow, it’s worth asking,” said Laura, summing it up. “It never hurts to ask.”

If you’re a farmer interested in selling to Penn State, or know one, the primary contact person is John Mondock. Call him at 865-6386.

Local Foodie Family Potluck Update

We had another fun and delicious potluck Tuesday night, including a wonderful juggler invited by Val Dade and enjoyed by an enthusiastic bunch of kids (and grown-ups too).

Menu included:

  • Artichoke and goat cheese strata
  • spelt cookies (with spelt from PSU farm)
  • Chicken with carrots and herbs and spieces
  • Beans, peppers, rice and cheese (green peppers and beans from PSU Rock Springs farm)
  • Black bean soup
  • Hummus and crackers
  • Homemade sunflower seed/oat bread

Next monthly potluck will be Thursday, April 26.

Editor’s Note

I’m taking a break from updating the blog until Saturday, April 7.

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