Advancing the Art and Science of Sustainable Farming
Jun 27, 2018 05:32PM
● By Melissa Cipollone
The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) works to build a more economically just, environmentally regenerative and community-focused food system. The Soil Institute is the association’s initiative to advance the art and science of sustainable farming through education and research. The initiative contains three focus areas:
Farmer-to-farmer exchange. Because every farm and every growing region is different, farmers rely strongly on a local network of their peers that openly share their knowledge, skills and experiences with each other.
Farmers are expert in everything from crop production and animal husbandry to mechanics and marketing, business planning and community building. PASA works to empower farmers to share proficiencies with their peers by facilitating year-round workshops, events and forums open to beginning and experienced farmers throughout Pennsylvania and the surrounding area.
Farmer training and development. To train the next generation of sustainable farmers, PASA facilitates two formal apprenticeship programs—a dairy grazing apprenticeship and a diversified vegetable apprenticeship.
Employing a model of education that has prepared skilled workers in the trades for more than a century, its apprenticeships combine paid, on-the-job training with related coursework. PASA works to pair beginning farmers with skilled mentors that support one another over a span of two seasons.
Farm-based research. PASA facilitates research projects among its members—that farm at diverse scales and employ an array of strategies—that measure the dimensions of sustainability they care about: the financial viability of their farm business; the health of their soil and the nutrient density of their products.
Measuring these sustainability indicators lets PASA establish benchmarks for what’s typical—and what’s possible. With access to these benchmark data, farmers can see where they stand relative to their peers and collaboratively develop new management ideas to move sustainability forward. They can also see, in measurable terms, whether their production and business models are achieving intended results.
In addition to its Soil Institute programs, PASA continues to host an annual conference—now in its 28th year—that draws thousands of people from all sectors of the food system for four days of intensive learning on a wide range of food and farming topics. The next conference will be held February 6 through 9, 2019, at the Lancaster County Convention Center, in Lancaster.
For more information, or to become involved with PASA’s Soil Institute as a farmer, food system professional, or investor, visit PASAfarming.org.