Here's just some of what we were able to accomplish this past year thanks to your unwavering support.
Celebrating 30 years
In February 1992, a group of Pennsylvania farmers decided to host a conference devoted to advancing the art and science of sustainable agriculture. At the time, it was difficult to find reliable education and resources for farmers who wanted to steward their land in harmony with natural ecosystems and who wanted to sell their products locally to support the health and vibrancy of their local communities.
These farmers also sought a peer community they could rely on as they worked to navigate the myriad aspects of operating a financially viable farm business. The conference became a treasured annual event, ultimately evolving into what Pasa Sustainable Agriculture is today. We are just as much an organization administering farmer training, research, policy, peer education, and local food programs as we are a network of tens of thousands of farmers, food system professionals, and changemakers committed to advancing regenerative and equitable agriculture at home in our own communities.
Not only do we remain committed to the mission of our organization’s founding farmers, we believe our mission has only become increasingly urgent. Supporters like you have sustained our work for three decades, and your support sustained us through this unprecedented public health crisis. Thank you. We couldn’t do it without you.
Helping farmers navigate the pandemic
Foodshed Mapping Project
When the pandemic hit, markets that farmers were relying on literally disappeared overnight as restaurants and schools shuttered. More than a year later, most still haven’t fully reopened. As devastating coronavirus outbreaks shut down large meatpacking plants, livestock producers lost access to processing facilities—many were forced to sell their animals at fire-sale prices and even euthanize those they couldn’t sell or afford to sustain. The pandemic also exacerbated the suffering of the dairy industry, which had been already experiencing a record decline.
To fortify local and regional supply chains during both times of crisis and times of relative normalcy, we initiated our Foodshed Mapping Project. We’re leading a team of 30+ partners to build a dynamic and comprehensive local food database that will make it easy to shop, sell, source, and share local food. The database will also improve food access by making it simple to find local food at food banks and farmers markets accepting SNAP, as well as help farmers to distribute their products through the emergency food system while being fairly compensated.
Understanding the pandemic’s impact on agriculture
We partnered with Chatham University to develop and distribute the only statewide research survey focused on gauging the effects of the pandemic on Pennsylvania farms. We'll be sharing the results of this study in coming months.
Maintaining uninterrupted access to local food
When the state mandated all non-essential businesses in Pennsylvania to temporarily close to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it did not initially classify agriculture-related businesses—like farmers markets or farm and garden supply stores—as essential. We and our partners worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the governor’s office to quickly revise this mandate to ensure communities had uninterrupted access to healthy, locally produced foods while maintaining virus mitigation protocols.
Hosting rapid-response webinars
We hosted 11 webinars attended by 1,350+ farmers and other industry professionals to help farms keep their workers, customers, and families safe and their business running during the pandemic. Topics included setting up contact-less farmers markets, implementing online ordering systems, managing labor force disruptions, accessing state and federal financial relief, and more.
Advocating for conservation and food justice
We worked to develop sustainable and equitable farm policies with agency policymakers, legislators, and other stakeholders in Pennsylvania on a wide variety of policy issues related to soil health, improving working conditions for migrant workers, improving water quality, increasing food access, and more.
Integrating agriculture in federal climate change policy
We helped develop the agriculture components of a new federal Civilian Climate Change bill, a legislative effort led by Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey and staff. In January 2021, President Biden included the restored bill in an executive order focused on advancing climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.
We launched a series of policy listening sessions that so far have engaged 600+ farmers and industry professionals. Topics included improving conditions for migrant farm workers, solar energy on farms, small meat processing, and industrial hemp.
Our Soil Health Benchmark Study—designed to help farmers monitor and respond to soil health strengths and challenges that can exist simultaneously within their fields—is one of the largest and most diverse community soil health research projects in the nation. In March 2021, we published a comprehensive report detailing our insights to date.
We developed the study in 2016 and continue to administer and grow it in collaboration with more than 100 vegetable, pastured livestock, and row crop farmers and partners including the Cornell Soil Health Laboratory, Future Harvest and the Million Acre Challenge, Penn State Extension, Rodale Institute, and Stroud Water Research Center.
Photo: A field at study participant New Morning Farm in Huntingdon County, Pa.
What are the soil samples and field records from 100+ farms telling us about soil health?
In March 2021, we published a new report detailing our Soil Health Benchmark Study findings to date. Our report shares insights on protecting clean water, how severe weather brought by climate change can affect soil, and how farmers can till judiciously without sacrificing soil health. The report has since been referenced in a number of articles and publications reaching thousands of farmers, food system professionals, and policymakers across the U.S.
Farms participating in our Soil Health Benchmark Study are located across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware.
Pasa Research Coordinator Sarah Bay Nawa explains our soil sampling protocols to collaborators from Stroud Water Research Center and Penn State University at Dickinson College Farm.
We expanded our study to more closely examine how field management affects water retention and runoff. Farmer and crop advisor Ben Hushon assists with our water infiltration trial on his father’s 100-acre row crop farm in York County, Pa.
Hosting our first virtual conference
Our annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference is one of the largest of its kind in the country. Over thirty years, tens of thousands of farmers, food system professionals, and changemakers have gathered for our hallmark event to learn practical strategies for cultivating farms and food systems that nourish, heal, and empower.
After the pandemic hit, we dove headfirst into learning the ins and outs of hosting an entirely virtual conference—a first for us!—to ensure our community maintained access to the yearly educational and network opportunities they rely on.
The silver lining: Our 30th Annual Conference was our most geographically and financially accessible conference yet. Attendees joined us from across the country, and even internationally. We instituted a “pay what you can” registration model to ensure that, in a year fraught with financial strain, everyone who wanted to access high-quality agricultural education could get it.
2021 Conference by the numbers
Number of farmers, food system professionals, and changemakers who attended our virtual conference
Number of virtual conference sessions
Number of conference speakers, who joined us from across the country
Growing food & farmers
Diversified Vegetable Apprenticeship
Diversified Vegetable Apprenticeship is a formal apprenticeship program developed by Pasa and local farmers. The program, which is registered with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, pairs beginning farmers with established farmers to provide a guided pathway toward managing or starting a vegetable farm.
The program benefits both beginning and experienced growers: Apprentices acquire the skills they need to manage or start their own vegetable farm, while host farmers gain a committed employee invested in farming as a career.
Photo: Apprentice Ashley Beeson (second from right) with the farm crew at Two Gander Farm in Chester County, Pa.
First Diversified Vegetable Apprenticeship graduates
After launching our two-season Diversified Vegetable Apprenticeship program in 2018, we’re thrilled to celebrate its first graduates. Apprentices and host farmers talk about their experiences with Diversified Vegetable Apprenticeship on our blog.
We continued our partnership with Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship—the first registered apprenticeship in agriculture in the U.S. The program was developed by dairy graziers in Wisconsin in 2010 to reduce barriers to entry into the profession and respond to ongoing losses of dairy farms across the country. Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship is currently active in 11 states.
Pasa has been administering the program in Pennsylvania and New Jersey since 2016 with support from a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant. Each year, we also host a number of educational and networking events for dairy graziers in the region to support effective and sustainable grazing practices.
Photo: Apprentice Craig Allen at Country Sunrise Creamery in Lebanon County, Pa.
A dairy grazier's journey
After completing 3,700 hours of on-the-job training and 300 hours of related technical instruction, Jessica White became the second Pennsylvania graduate of Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship. Jessica talks about her experience on our blog.
“I first learned about [Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship] at the Pasa conference. Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship connected me with other dairy farmers, and a larger dairy network. The program was also a great resource in discovering opportunities available for dairy farmers to grow their business. It was through the apprenticeship and Pasa that I heard about a value-added grant opportunity that has since helped my home farm develop a cheese house, purchase new equipment, and start a new business that we hope to launch this year.” —Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship graduate Jessica White
Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship by the numbers
Number of people involved in the local dairy industry we engaged through educational events over three years to grow a community of grass-based dairies
Number of apprentices enrolled in Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship in Pennsylvania and New Jersey over three years
Number of mentor graziers enrolled in Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship in Pennsylvania and New Jersey over three years
Committing to equity in agriculture
At its best, agriculture can nourish, heal, and empower. At its worst, it can be a source of violence, destruction, and trauma. Our food system holds infinite potential for enriching lives, communities, and the environment; it also remains entrenched in racist legacies.
We cultivate colonized land first stewarded by Indigenous Peoples. Less than 2% of farmers are Black, and land owned by Black farmers has fallen 90% since 1910. Nearly 50% of farmworkers are undocumented immigrants lacking basic health and safety protections. Despite its roots in domestic policy, economic decline in the ag sector is often blamed on China.
Ultimately, we cannot successfully advance sustainable agriculture without also advancing equitable agriculture. We will continue to host educational events centered on equity in agriculture. We’ve assembled a working committee to examine how we can do more and do better. We’ve updated—and will continue to update—our policies, procedures, programs to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. And we are continuously building an organizational culture that better accommodates life outside of work.
Relief payments for farmers of color
In response to COVID-19 relief racial disparities, with support from FarmAid we awarded 220 relief payments for $500 each to farmers of color. Thanks to an anonymous gift and other donations to our relief fund for farmers of color, in coming months we'll be issuing 150+ additional relief payments.
Each year, we produce several publications for farmers, food system professionals, government agencies, and communities exploring sustainable agriculture topics and findings from our farm-based research projects. Here’s what’s new.
Water Farming: Managing Agricultural Lands for Clean & Safe Water
Can agriculture transition from a major source of water pollution to a major force for improving water quality and, in turn, for protecting human and environmental health? This report explores how agriculture has the potential to either degrade and deplete, or protect and enrich, our shared water resources.
Scaling Up Pastured Livestock Production: Benchmarks for Getting the Most Out of Feed & Land
Can farmers realistically scale-up pastured production to become a bigger, more mainstream part of our food system? We partnered with 10 diversified pastured livestock farms in Pennsylvania to develop feed and land efficiency benchmarks for the most common meat animals, and considered implications for the future of sustainable meat farming in our region.
We partnered with Center for Dairy Excellence to provide financial consulting for six grass-based dairy farms. Read the stories of three of these farms that sought to better compete in an exceedingly challenging dairy market by starting or expanding creamery enterprises.
An Environmental Assessment of Grass-Based Dairy Production in the Northeastern United States
Pasa’s Education Director Franklin Egan and Delaware Valley Hub Manager Aaron de Long co-authored a peer-reviewed journal article evaluating the environmental impact of grass-based dairy production in the science journal "Agricultural Systems."
Collaboration has been one of our core values since Pasa’s inception 30 years ago. Each year, we team up with hundreds of farmers and organizations to advance shared goals of supporting sustainable farms, local food systems, and equitable agriculture. Here are just a few examples of these partnerships.
Connecting farming practices and nutrition
We began working with the Real Food Campaign to better understand how healthy soils are linked to the nutrient density of crops.
A grant from Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s new Farm Vitality Grants let us partner with Kitchen Table Consultants to pilot a program that will provide in-depth financial consulting and a peer financial support community for diversified vegetable farms.
Advancing community-driven sustainable agriculture research
In line with our open and participatory approach to farm-based research, we’re working with OurSci, a developer of community-driven science tools, OpenTEAM, a farmer-driven suite of soil health management tools, and General Mills to develop an accessible web tool to help farmers and researchers easily visualize and compare farm management practices and soil health outcomes.
Learning together during isolation
In response to the pandemic, we rapidly transformed most of our in-person farmer-to-farmer workshops into webinars. While nothing can replace walking through fields to explore farming systems firsthand and connecting with peers face-to-face, the webinar format made our year-round educational events accessible to farmers across the region and beyond.
Our event topics ranged from employee management and forest farming, to sustainable pest management and farm finances. During more than a year of social isolation, our farmer-to-farmer events were especially important points of connection among farmers and other ag industry professionals.
Building a library of sustainable farming resources
We believe that providing opportunities for farmers to visit the fields of their peers to see their unique systems up close—and make connections while they're at it—is immeasurably valuable for inspiring creativity and innovation. We also value the financial and geographic accessibility of virtual events. We continue to freely share recordings for many of our webinars on our website.
Here are our latest audited financials for fiscal year ending June 30, 2020. While the pandemic initially negatively impacted our funding sources, thanks to federal financial relief, generous donor support, and several new grant awards our funding has healthily grown after this audit was conducted.
We hold so much gratitude for supporters like you who are passionate about creating a world where agriculture nourishes, heals, and empowers. The accomplishments you've read about in this report were all made possible thanks to the support of our members, donors, and funders. They also all occurred during an unprecedented public health crisis—a true testament to the resolve of farmers and the sustainable agriculture community at large. From all of us at Pasa, our deepest thanks.