This update went via email to about 70 people who have been involved in some way with Farm to Table discussions over the last couple of years, through organizations including Spring Creek Homesteading Fund, Penn State Sustainability Institute, State College Area Food Bank, Tennessen Treks, State College Area School District Parents Nutritional Advisory Council and Friends and Farmers Cooperative. Feel free to forward it to others and if you want to be on the mailing list, subscribe here (be sure to check off the “Farm to Table” interest group.)
Some of the pieces seem to be coming together this summer – particularly as related to gleaning – so I wanted to send a brief update about those things and ask you to let me know if you want to be involved in a more hands on way as these things develop over the next few months.
I got an email last week from Jason Lilley, who is working with Elsa Sanchez at the PSU research farm this year. Like many of us, Lilley is eager to see the food produced at the research farm harvested, processed, distributed and eaten locally. Currently, most of those crops are either composted or thrown into garbage dumpsters.
However, as many of us have learned over the past few years, there are a lot of challenges involved in that project, and several of them are labor-related – particularly the harvesting and processing components. So when I say “hands-on” I mean that quite literally.
Here’s a quick snapshot of some developments over the last six months or so that I know about:
Summer 2012 – Last summer, Marcella Houghton, a Middlebury (Vermont) student, studied the gleaning potential in Centre County through a project with the State College Area Food Bank last summer. Link to her report.
Winter 2012/2013 – Morgan Hetherington, who will be a senior this fall in the Schreyer Honors College studying Food Science, began planning her honors thesis which will have three parts: developing sauce recipes from vegetables typically grown in Pennsylvania; designing a business plan for manufacturing the sauces which will then go directly to the PA food banks and working with legislators and farmers to adapt or generate new legislation to give the farmers a tax break for donating their excess produce. Her goal is to help Pennsylvania’s farmers, feed the food insecure, and create jobs around the state. Her thesis proposal was accepted and she’s working on the recipe this summer and filling in the business plan as she goes, planning to do the writing this fall. She hasn’t yet done a report on the processing potential for State College but plans to do that, along with visiting Tait Farms to gather information there.
January 2013 – Debra Brubaker – manager of the FoodShed community kitchen at Village Acres CSA farm in Mifflintown, organized Squash Hunger, an event bringing together volunteer cooks and donated squash from farmers to prepare squash soup for donation to St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen in Harrisburg. News coverage here.
March 2013 – Carolyne Meehan of the SCASD Parents Nutrition Advisory Committee began planning to apply for USDA grants to support farm to table programs. She met with Megan Schaper – SCASD Food Service Director – and because the time window was short, decided to postpone the application until next year after gathering more information.
Among other things, Megan recommended “Free for All” by Janet Poppendieck, which points out that making school food healthier and more local will also require significant changes to how school meals are funded and organized. Take home message (for me) is that there’s a leadership role for the SCASD School Board.
April 2013 – Friends and Farmers Coooperative held a potluck to celebrate their incorporation and election of their first board of directors. Survey and planning is continuing over the summer.
April 2013 – PSU graduating seniors Rachel Hoh and Alyssa Kalter organized a Local Foods Dinner in Redifer Commons, working with John Mondock and Jim Richards of Residential Dining Services to plan the menu, set the price and arrange the suppliers. They got 101 students to come to the dinner, and one of the two lead organizers is now a summer intern at the Sustainability Institute. She wrote an excellent report summarizing survey results, including that South Halls food service managers are planning a second local food dinner for September 17.
One key piece of information uncovered during the planning was that there are very few approved vendors, because vendors have to get PSU listed as an insured party, and depending on the insurance provider, that can cost $400 to $1000, just to add PSU to the policy. Plus another $100 for the truck delivery permit. With their tiny profit margins, that’s too much for a lot of the small, local organic producers who sell via CSAs and farmers markets. Spring Creek Homesteading is currently offering some grants (up to three, at $500 each) to try to get a few more farm approved, if they’re interested in selling to Penn State.
With Jeremy Bean at the Sustainability Institute, Rachel’s also been working on the PSU Student-Run Farm project, which Jeremy sees as being on a 2-3 year timeframe. Unfortunately for us (excellent for her) Rachel is moving to Philadelphia in mid-summer to start work with AmeriCorps, focused on gleaning for use in Philly area food banks.
May/June 2013 – Two PSU students began working on volunteer projects through their involvement with Tennessen Treks. Justin Huegel interviewing Mark Ott, Food Service Director at Bald Eagle Valley School District to find out more about his farm-to-table program. And Tess Bloom will be interviewing area farmers about their labor needs and training capacity, to develop a pilot project to get PSU students out on the farms, providing labor and getting basic farm work training.
June 2013 – Doris Malkmus offered to invest some volunteer time on the community kitchen idea, in particular looking for a host kitchen (ideally certified commercial) where we could run a pilot program during peak harvest season organizing group canning sessions. Her first contact will be John Peters at the Grace Lutheran Church Green Team, since Meals on Wheels are prepared out of the Grace Lutheran kitchen several days each week, potentially leaving the kitchen equipped and available for rental at non-Meals-on-Wheels times.
June 2013 – Jason Lilley emailed: “I am currently researching organic and conventional methods of producing cucurbits to reduce tillage and the use of chemicals at Rock Springs…I am currently working with Dr. Elsa Sanchez with the Plant Science Department at PSU. Elsa is involved in many of PSU’s sustainable agriculture projects and seems to be interested in local food issues. This Fall she will be teaching a Vegetable Crops class of which I believe I will be the teaching assistant. Between this class, our research project, and the numerous other vegetable projects on campus there will be an enormous amount of produce. Sadly I am learning that the usual fate of this produce is the compost pile if we are lucky, often times the dumpster. I would like to meet with you to discuss past work on this issue and ways in which we could begin using this produce in a better fashion….”
Jason has already been in contact with Bill Zimmer to learn more about his project growing food for the State College Area Food Bank, and with Jennifer Landry to learn more about her experiences selling PSU-raised crops through the Cellar Market on campus, and with Jim Eisenstein to learn more about his experiences at Jade Family Farm with donating produce to the State College Area Food Bank. I’ll be meeting with him next week to explore his idea further and will report back to the group after that meeting.
- Carol Pioli – Director of the State College Area Food Bank. We know from Marcella Houghton’s work that they have regulations to comply with that currently don’t allow home-canned produce. It’s not clear what manufacturing standards would bring the locally processed produce to the safety level where they’d be allowed to accept it for distribution.
- Jim Eisenstein – retired PSU professor and unpaid farmhand at Jade Family Farm, a CSA in Juniata, who is very interested in using more gleaned produce so that it doesn’t go to waste, but is limited by kitchen space and labor.
- Food Hub – Looking at the area from a wide-angle lens, on the farmer side, no one has yet stepped up to organize a core group of vendors and work toward a cooperative or food hub-type format yet, but the idea is still bubbling on the edges. Potential buyers including Friends & Farmers Co-op, PSU, SCASD, Mount Nittany Medical Center and others have expressed interest in purchasing from a Farmers Cooperative if such an organization forms. Everyone is just too busy with all their other projects to make it their focus.