After a whirlwind weekend at the Guelph Organic Conference, a couple of us at FarmStart attended the 20th Annual PASA Farming for the Future Conference that took place in State College Pennsylvania from February 2nd to 5th. PASA stands for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. Similar to our Ecological Farmers of Ontario (EFO), PASA brings together farmers to learn from each other and work together to create a more sustainable food system.  Their annual conference, one of the largest of its kind in North America, seems to attract a contingent from Ontario each year. This year there were eight of us – several farmers as well as representatives from EFO, Farms at Work and FarmStart.

With over 2000 attendees and some 15 workshops to pick from at any one time, it was definitely an inspiring and busy weekend. In addition to bringing in motivating keynote speakers (Wes Jackson this year) and knowledgeable presenters, PASA also does a great job of fostering a sense of community and fun! Delicious meals were shared around large tables and evenings were filled with live music and dancing.

Highlights? As a budding orchardist, I thoroughly appreciated the workshops given by organic orcharding guru Michael Phillips (author of “The Apple Grower”). Laurie was especially interested in hearing Elizabeth Henderson (author of “Sharing the Harvest”) speak about The Agricultural Justice Project, an initiative to create fairness and equity in the food system through the development of social justice standards and a certification process for ecological farms as well as processors, distributors and retailers. And I think we all agreed that the documentary Gasland, about natural gas drilling in the US, was one of the (if not THE) most impactful documentaries we’ve ever seen.

The conference definitely re-energized all of our commitment to the ecological farming movement in Ontario and reminded us about the larger context and potential for our work. I encourage you to keep an eye on upcoming conferences – there is a Food Justice Conference taking place at the University of Waterloo March 18-20, as well as a second Bring Food Home Conference this fall in Ontario (location TBD) and there always seems to be exciting agricultural conferences taking place in the US. And if you’re interested in carpooling to PASA next winter, give us at shout!

Ali English

FarmStart, Training and Resources Program Manager


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