Central PA Local Food System – Project Status Updates

(Taking a break from blog editing until Nov. 1 – KW)

Reskilling Workshops – There’s a collection of community-wide offerings at the blog’s reskilling page. Upcoming Spring Creek Homesteading workshops include Home Sausage-Making with Steve Bookbinder (Nov. 10); Sewing Quilted Placemats with Mary Ellen McMahon (Nov. 10); Beginner Meditation (Dec. 1); and Making Apple Elf Decorations with Ingrid Fowles (Dec.8).

Over the past year or so of organizing more than 40 workshops, the reskilling program has been evolving into a matchmaking service linking instructors and students. If you’re interested in teaching a skill, please contact me. NEW – If you were interested in taking any course over the last year but couldn’t attend due to scheduling conflicts, please let me know which skills you’d like to learn. I’ll keep running lists and when I’ve got five or more students eager to gain a particular skill, I’ll track down an instructor and help you schedule a mutually convenient date, time and place.

Spring Creek Homesteading Potlucks – Next potluck is Tuesday, December 11 at 6 p.m. at the State College Borough Building Community Room. Special activities may include creating a large format map of the Borough and pasting on construction paper cut-outs of the shops, gardens, renewable energy sources and other sustainability features we’re working toward, plus a holiday cookie exchange.

IRS Tax-Exempt 501(c)3 Application – First draft finished, undergoing review by accountant for final revisions and filing. One of our main goals for next year – if our application is approved – will be to apply for private and public grants to create a community food center, starting with a community kitchen facility to host cooking classes and other community food preparation activities.

Building Program – During our first year of operation, Spring Creek Homesteading raised about $3,700 in donations from workshop participants. We distributed approximately $1,400 in small grants for local food projects (such as rent subsidies for the State College Winter Farmers Market and supplies for the Penns Valley Learning Garden Permablitz). We separately gave about $1,360 in financial support for the Friends Meeting Garden renovation projects. In early October, we made our first micro-loan to the Rising Spring Meat Co. in Spring Mills.

Our Board of Directors recently adopted a Grants and Loans Policy, covering future mini-grants and micro-loans. See the policy for details: SCHF Grant & Loan Policy.

To continue supporting local food system-building projects, we’re also planning a “Friends of Spring Creek Homesteading” Annual Fund Drive. The campaign will probably launch in January 2013 and we hope to know by then if our IRS application for 501(c)3 status has been approved, making supporter donations tax-deductable for the donors.

Friends Meeting House Garden Renovation – During the 2012 growing season, Spring Creek Homesteading coordinated efforts to renovate and fence the garden space at the State College Friends Meeting House on Prospect Avenue. Our next step is to request a meeting with the building & grounds committee at the Friends Meeting House to discuss the results of the 2012 efforts and explore possible management and gardening arrangements for the 2013 growing season. Possibilities include the garden being reserved for use by Friends Meeting members (as in the past); the garden being opened to the general community for plot rentals (similar to the Tudek Park and PSU Center for Sustainability gardens); or perhaps a land lease arrangement with an entrepreneurial urban farmer.

Monthly Homesteaders’ Hangouts at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe – The first one was Saturday, October 20 at 9:30 a.m. and was super-mellow. Thanks to the half-dozen participants who lounged around the meeting room table drinking coffee, munching bagels, and sharing their homesteading projects and plans. It’s like a support group for people who get excited about things like home insulation, chicken tractors, and bicycle-powered water pumps for garden irrigation. Next one will be Saturday, November 17 at 9:30 a.m. at Webster’s.

Homesteaders HandbookIn progress, now aiming for late November publication date, with copies to be sold as a fundraiser. I could use volunteer help – about 10 to 12 hours – with tedious research and data entry.

PSU Farm-to-Table Project – After a round of emails about a month ago highlighting the difficulties faced by time-starved small-scale farmers trying to enter the bidding process for residential dining hall food contracts this past growing season, we’re working toward setting up a small food hub to launch next spring. The food hub would be loosely modeled on the Tuscarora Organic Growers’ Cooperative; designed to handle tasks like bidding, transportation, storage, packaging and insurance on behalf of the local growers. We hope to have a rough proposal ready to circulate to farmers within a few weeks and will then revise the proposal to fit the specific needs of any farmers interested in joining a growers’ group for the hub’s first year of operations.

Friends & Farmers Cooperative – The steering committee, Mark Maloney and Greenmoore Gardens staff and volunteers recently organized a stunningly successful Share-the-Harvest Dinner to raise funds for a professionally-designed website that would replace the current Friends & Farmers Co-op webpage. Steering committee members continue to build the prospective members and suppliers lists, plan feasibility studies, and work with students at the Rural Economic Development Clinic at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law to draft articles of incorporation, by-laws, business plans and other legal documents.

Happy Valley Timebank –  The timebank’s mission is “to foster community connections through hour-for-hour exchanges of all of our unique gifts.  Time banking is defined as a pattern of reciprocal service exchange that uses units of time as currency. The drawbacks of the current economic system are well documented: outsourcing, environmental degradation, wealth disparity, government control, etc.  Through this localized alternative currency we are promoting equality among all stakeholders in our community.” Happy Valley Timebank is now open for member sign-ups (page hosted by  TimebanksUSA.) For more information, contact Sean Morgan.

Centre County Black Hops Unit Homebrew Club – The next meeting of the Centre County Black Hops Unit will be on Saturday, November 3 from 2 to 5 p.m. at  306 S Gill St # 1, State College. Organizer Dustin Kennedy says: “Bring a homebrew and a small glass for tasting. Weather permitting, we’ll be pressing some apples for making hard cider. Let me  know if you are interested in bringing apples…The yield is about one gallon per bushel…Five to six gallons total could be accomplished with focused work in three hours.”

VeggieCommons – Students in Clare Hinrich’s Community, Environment and Development 475 class last spring produced a report on the feasibility of installing a community garden at Aikens Place, just off Waupelani, focusing especially on gauging neighbor support for the project and collecting case studies of successful community gardens. Key findings included issues related to water access, and the need for a close fit between the land to be used for community gardens, and a high level of participatory interest among the people living nearby. VeggieCommons‘ founder Dana Stuchul – whose pilot project was the Friendship Garden established in 2011 – is pursuing the Aikens Place garden plan with help from students in Dorothy Blair’s Nutrition 497 class this semester.

SCASD Farm-to-Table – The menu this year seems to feature a local fruit or vegetable option every day. Michele Marchetti and Carolyne Meehan are members of the Elementary Parents Nutritional Advisory Council, next meeting November 27 at 7 p.m. in Room 100 of the SCAHS South Building. The council has been working with award-winning food service director Megan Schaper on a lot of great initiatives. More updates on this project soon.

State College Area Food Bank – To my knowledge, the food bank is still actively seeking larger commercial space to better organize programs currently hampered by using multiple too-small spaces scattered all over town.

State College Area Food Bank Tool Bank – Last spring, we proposed micro-funding a tool bank to be made available primarily to food bank clients interested in setting up gardens at their homes, but limited by lack of access to good tools. The project stalled when we were unable to find an area religious congregation to offer space in a storage shed, garage or other outbuilding to house the Tool Bank.

Centre County Permaculture Guild – As far as I know, the last project completed by the guild was the permablitz at the Penns Valley Learning Garden in Millheim in April (photos and report here), mainly because the group couldn’t find additional landowners interested in converting plots to permaculture. For more information – especially if you want to have the group come and blitz part of your yard – contact Jackie Bonomo.

Got information about other local food system projects? Please pass them on!

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