As the first day of spring arrives, symbolizing the beginning of a fruitful growing season for Pennsylvania farmers, more and more of the state’s residents are looking for ways to promote sustainable agriculture and healthy farming in their lives and through the political decisions they and their elected leaders make. To help guide the growing “Farm to Table” movement, PennEnvironment released a new study today that outlines how sustainable farming benefits our environment, economy, and public health--and offers a blueprint of state policies to improve our food system.
PennEnvironment released the report, Healthy Farms, Healthy Environment: State and Local Policies to Improve Pennsylvania’s Food System and Protect Our Land and Water. The study touts the myriad benefits of sustainable farming, as well as the policy solutions to take advantage of the growing consumer market that’s clawing for locally grown and organic products. To that end, the event’s speakers urged the Pennsylvania legislature to renew and expand programs that promote farmers’ markets, organic farming, and local, healthy food in Pennsylvania schools, and include funding for these programs in the Commonwealth’s budget for the coming fiscal year.
“Promoting sustainable agriculture is a triple win for Pennsylvania: it benefits Pennsylvania’s economy and family farmers, it helps protect our environment, and it’s better for our health,” said Mary Kate Ranii of PennEnvironment. “Pennsylvania has the potential to be a pioneer in sustainable, local, and healthy food production, but only if our elected officials in Harrisburg bring back critical programs and take cues from successful strategies being implemented in other states.”
“Sustainable agriculture provides us with the best opportunity to ensure the success of family farmers while also guaranteeing communities’ access to fresh, locally grown produce and a more environmentally friendly approach to giving families access to healthy, fresh, and affordable foods,” said Representative Robert Freeman of Pennsylvania’s 136th Legislative District.
The report highlights studies by the Rodale Institute located in Berks County, showing that organic farmland absorbs as much as 20 percent more water than conventional farmland, while reducing runoff and high levels of nutrient pollution. These studies also show that some organic crops can been grown using 30 percent less energy than if grown conventionally.
"Farming organically and sustainably gives Pennsylvanians better product while benefitting our surrounding environment,” said Jason Slip, of the Seed Farm in Emmaus, PA. “We need more policies that make sure that all Pennsylvania famers who want to farm sustainably, can."
The report also shows how organic and sustainable farming in Pennsylvania is delivering results that benefit public health. Organic and certified naturally grown food is not grown using pesticides, a growing concern for many consumers today.
PennEnvironment is calling on state officials to renew funding for and expand successful sustainable agriculture programs. This includes the Farmers’ Market Development Act and the Farm to School Act, which promote farmers’ markets and connect local, healthy farms with Pennsylvania schools. It also includes the “Paths to Organic” program, which helps conventional farmers who want to convert to organic farming overcome potential financial hurdles in the conversion process.
“The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture supports efforts that improve the economic viability, environmental soundness, and social responsibility of food and farming systems in Pennsylvania and across the country,” said Bryan Snyder of PASA. “We encourage policies that support our family farmers, who steward the land and provide healthy food for us all.”
This report identifies successful programs in other states and urges Pennsylvania’s legislators to bring their success to the Commonwealth. Examples include, Vermont’s Farm to Plate Initiative, which creates a plan to advance sustainable agriculture in the state, and Illinois’s policies to purchase local food for state agencies.
“The value of family farmers provide in the Commonwealth is much greater than economic or environmental, this is a tradition and livelihood that strengthens communities and allow local, affordable produce to reach various citizens across Pennsylvania,” said State Representative Jake Wheatley Jr., of Pennsylvania’s 19th Legislative District.
Pennsylvanian consumer demand is increasing for healthy, locally grown food that is produced in ways that reflect their values, including protecting the environment. The fate of these key programs could be decided as legislators in Harrisburg agree upon the state’s budget for the coming year.
“As Pennsylvania’s growing season begins, we have the opportunity to promoting farm in ways that protect our health and environment, and support our hardworking family farmers,” said Ranii of PennEnvironment. “Healthy farming is something we can all get behind, and we urge all of our state senators and representatives to bring back and expand programs that promote sustainable farming in this year’s budget. Without these programs included in the budget, benefits for our family farmers, our environment, and our health will be left on the table.”