Farm Aid 2017 Concert Region

Blog | August 18, 2017

Food systems in the Farm Aid 2017 region: Pennsylvania and beyond

by Jessica Kurn

Farm Aid is headed to a unique region of the country that includes western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. There is so much inspiring work being done on the ground there to create a vibrant and strong regional food system. It’s a blended effort from family farmers and organizations acting as their allies that’s creating more resilient local economies in the region—particularly in an area where extractive energies, like coal and natural gas, were once king.

Rather than tell you about the region, we decided to let a few of the organizations on the forefront of these efforts do the talking. Take a look at what each of them has to say below!

 


Heidi Secord, President, Pennsylvania Farmers Union

Pennsylvania Farmers Union is a grassroots, membership-driven organization made up of family farmers across the state. Along with the National Farmers Union and other states’ Farmers Unions, they ensure the voices and priorities of family farmers reach the ears of elected officials. In the past few years, they’ve worked on issues ranging from creating a safety net for farmers in these tough times, to industrial hemp, to local food systems, FSMA compliance and Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) on meat.

Farm Aid: We have not been to this area of the country since 2002. What do you hope the Farm Aid audience can learn about farmers and food issues that you work with?

Secord: We are so proud to have Farm Aid back in our neck of the woods we can’t stand it! We hope the Farm Aid audience can learn that there’s more to Pennsylvania than Philadelphia & Pittsburgh! (Though, surrounded by family farms, and consumers, chefs and butchers who support them, BOTH are among the many great places to eat in PA these days!) PA’s got a rich history of agriculture, and that tradition is a resource that seems to be more widely recognized and appreciated all the time. It’s a great place to be a family farmer. Most of all, we hope the audience enjoys the diverse beauty our state has to offer!

Click here to read more!

What is unique to this region in terms of the challenges or opportunities of working in food and agriculture?

Pennsylvania farmers have a great opportunity to build on an already well established market for local foods. PA was 4th in the nation in direct sales (farm to consumer) according to the 2014 NASS survey. Geographically, Pennsylvania is blessed with large population centers throughout the state with agricultural areas nearby that are increasingly retooling to support them directly. Direct sales farms tend to be family farms, and are typically environmentally and agronomically sustainable endeavors with the added bonus of helping reconnect consumers with their food, and the folks who take such care in growing it.

Knowing that we’re all working on such big, important issues, what keeps you motivated and inspired?

The knowledge that the work we do provides a voice for family farms of all stripes and sizes in Pennsylvania, and – with National Farmers Union – beyond!

Favorite local farm?

The family farm that takes pride in producing high quality products, being excellent stewards of the land they work, and nurtures their community and region. So, we are sorry to report that PA has too many great ones to name just one!

Best food for a summer day?

Hamburgers, watermelon, and corn on the cob!

Best dish or food secret unique to your region?

Local options on MANY menus in our region these days!

Who are you most looking forward to hearing on the Farm Aid 2017 stage?

So excited for all of them, but Willie’s gotta be at the top of the list! But also tied for first would be John, Neil, Jack, Dave, Sheryl, The Avetts…aw, you get it! All excellent entertainers, and all great champions for family farmers!

 

Spencer Moss, Executive Director, West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition

The West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, in Charleston, WV, is working to build a local food and agriculture system that provides viable incomes for farmers and local food businesses and one that ensures that all residents have access to locally produced food.

Farm Aid: What is unique to this region in terms of the challenges or opportunities of working in food and agriculture?

Moss: There are many challenges in this area, the first being geography. There aren’t big open fields like in the Midwest, so many farmers grow on comparatively small farms. In West Virginia, though you may be 60 miles from a market, it can easily take two hours to get there. Interstate access is limited therefore aggregation and distribution is a challenge. Because of the geography issues, West Virginia has relatively fewer farmers than North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, or Pennsylvania, so there is an issue of critical mass in building the infrastructure to support family farms. Finally, West Virginia is easily one of the poorest states in the Union, many people don’t have the additional funding in their strapped food budgets to purchase farm fresh food that costs a little more.

Click here to read more!

Farm Aid has not been to this area of the country since 2002. What do you hope the Farm Aid audience can learn about farmers and food issues that you work with?

For a couple of decades, we’ve been giving more and more of our food businesses to corporations. I see it when I go back to my family’s farm in Missouri. Driving through the countryside, what was once family farm after family farm is now corporate farm after corporate farm. It’s scary to think that corporate America could own our entire food supply. It’s important that we teach farming and growing to each generation and do everything that we can to help farmers stay on their family farms and help the next generations of farmers own pieces of land to farm on.

Knowing that we’re all working on such big, important issues, what keeps you motivated and inspired?

I love making things happen for beginning farmers. Creating trainings and making network connections and soon we’ll be able to offer some alternative land access options. I also love getting policy wins for farmers at the state legislature.

Favorite local farm?

Hudson Farms or Green Gate Farm

Best food for a summer day?

Romney Peaches

Best dish or food secret unique to your region?

A well-debated question…. Fried Green Tomatoes, Pinto Beans and Corn Bread, anything that maw-maw cans….

Who are you most looking forward to hearing on the Farm Aid 2017 stage?

Dave Matthews!

 

 

 

 

 

Leslie Schaller, Director of Programs, Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet)

ACEnet serves the thirty-two Appalachian counties in Ohio. Beginning in 1985, just like Farm Aid, they have worked to grow the regional economy by supporting entrepreneurs such as farmers and food businesses.

Farm Aid: Knowing that we’re all working on such big, important issues, what keeps you motivated and inspired?

Schaller: I have personally been at it for 40+ years and will continue until I drop! Seeing the empowerment and the change and how it continues to accelerate is what is probably most gratifying for me. That said, we still work in a region that struggles with entrenched poverty and external ownership. Appalachia is an economy in transition and we all need to work together as peer learners to create a new narrative for the region, our food producers and our communities. Everyone has the power to be the “eater owners” of their local food sheds ­– we just need to assist people with information, skills and resources.

Click here to read more!

What is unique to this region in terms of the challenges or opportunities of working in food and agriculture?

Access to wholesale markets for sustainable, organic and local agriculture and value-added products is still a challenge for many of our small and mid-sized farm operators. Although demand for local food continues to grow, creating the aggregation infrastructure, minimal processing capabilities, on-farm infrastructure for season extension and packing, and sharing the distribution logistics and infrastructure are still a major focus for the local food value chains. ACEnet facilitates these with our partners, but it remains both a challenge and an opportunity. As we develop more on the infrastructure, we also still need to do a better job at creating networks between all the actors in Central Appalachia. Recent collaborations between ACEnet, Appalachia Sustainable Development and about 15 other food system anchor organizations in West Virginia are addressing these gaps and challenges.

Farm Aid has not been to this area of the country since 2002. What do you hope the Farm Aid audience can learn about farmers and food issues that you work with?

Farm Aid provides us with the opportunity to share our stories of success. In our immediate region –the southeastern counties of Appalachia Ohio – local food development has become a significant economic driver. Through shared social media, and web and video posts, we can bring more attention to the incredible producers and value-added processors we have in the region.

Favorite local farm?

Way too many to name. Although we have many beginning farmers in the Athens area at Homecoming Farm, and at Squeaky Duck Farm.

Best food for a summer day?

Corn

Best dish or food secret unique to your region?

 Pawpaws – of course!

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