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PATTON TOWNSHIP — Sustainable agriculture advocates believe healthy farms is a triple win for Pennsylvania as it benefits the state’s economy and farmers, protects the natural environment and is good for health in what’s called the “farm to table” movement.
Thursday morning at the ClearWater Conservancy on North Atherton Street, Penn Environment released its newest report documenting the benefits of sustainable farming in addition to highlighting the blueprints of state policies that would allow the commonwealth to move toward a food system that is good for the economy, the environment and health.
“Spending $1 on local food generates nearly three times the economic benefit for the local economy as spending one dollar at a business that sources its food from faraway sources,” said Erika Staaf, clean water advocate for PennEnvironment — a statewide citizens-based environmental advocacy organization. “Pennsylvania has a huge potential to be a pioneer when it comes to developing more sustainable, local and healthy food protection and distribution.”
With help from local leaders and agencies, a central hub in State College where farmers can sell their product in mass quantities is something advocates are fighting for. Brian Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture said a building that provides the necessary resources for farmers and consumers could cost anywhere from about half a million to several million dollars.
“We need a link between farmers and consumers other than farmers markets where you can’t buy bulk at a wholesale price,” said Harrison Schailey, chef and proprietor of Harrison’s Wine Grill “This is where we can help use locally grown products more effectively.”
Schailey was one member in a group of advocates at the meeting Thursday that also included Snyder, Staaf and Jennifer Shuey, executive director for the ClearWater Conservancy.
Staaf said sustainable agriculture advocates are reaching out to legislators in Harrisburg to ramp up sustainable agricultural programs.
“Pennsylvania must bring back programs that fund and create local farmers markets, promote policies that put more local food into our schools and expand existing programs that helps farmers reduce their impact on the environment by transitioning to organic growing methods,” Staaf said.
Snyder added that he wants to submit an idea to leaders that includes giving tax incentives to local businesses that use farm fresh food within 50 miles from their business.
Staaf said a report shows successful programs in other states and urges Pennsylvania leaders to help bring success to the commonwealth.
These other states include Vermont’s Farm to Plate Initiative that created a plan to advance sustainable agriculture in the state, and Illinois policies to purchase local food for state agencies.
“As the agriculture industry shifts, it is important that we examine economic trends and ask what can be done to ensure that existing agricultural businesses remain viable, that new agricultural enterprises have the best chance of success and that all people have access to fresh produce and other agricultural products,” said Sarah Parker, senior planner with the Centre County Agricultural Land Preservation Board.
“As Pennsylvania’s growing season begins, we have the opportunity to promote farms in ways that protect our health and environment, and support our hardworking family farmers,” Staaf added. “Healthy farming is something we can all get behind.”
According to Snyder, Pennsylvania is ranked No. 3 in the country in terms of organic agriculture. He said a majority of the credit goes to the Amish farmers.