POP staff were thrilled to attend Farming for the Future, the 2018 PASA Winter Conference.

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, or PASA, is the largest statewide, member-based sustainable farming organization in the United States, which grew out of the need for an educational and support system for farmers – both experienced and beginning. PASA works to improve the economic viability, environmental soundness and social responsibility of food and farming systems in Pennsylvania and across the country with a mission to promote profitable farms that produce healthy food for all people while respecting the natural environment. Their work is rooted in education and support for farmers, and outreach to the general public.

Fedco Trees display some historic apple varietals for the upcoming growing season

PASA’s signature event is the annual Winter Conference that POP’s Education Director Alyssa and Orchard Director Michael just attended. It is widely regarded as one of the best of its kind in the East, a vehicle for community building and education that brings together farmers, processors, consumers, students, environmentalists, and business and community leaders.

This year’s theme was Farming for the Future: Farming in a Time of Transition, which seems all too true! The content was impressive with almost any farming topic imaginable represented through the 100+ speakers, intensive workshops, and 90+ trade show vendors. While there is an abundance to soak in educationally, the opportunity to network and socialize is equally present all day and evening for four full days – if you haven’t taken in too much and need a nap!

This year had more orchard-related content than ever with intensive workshops on all of the following topics and more:

  • Organic Apple and Peach Production
  • Kiwi Berries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, and Blueberries
  • Biological Orcharding
  • Holistic Orchard Spray Decisions
  • Biological Alchemy
  • Urban Ecosystems
  • Urban Farmer Real Talk

POP staff attempted to soak in as much of this content as possible! Michael Phillips, a pioneer of holistic orcharding, had numerous workshops that dove into the many biological connections that can contribute to a healthy orchard ecosystem. And if you were lucky, you got to chat him up over a drink afterwards!

Michael Phillips encourages adopting fungal consciousness during his Biological Alchemy workshop, recognizing symbiosis as a principle life strategy

In Biological Orcharding and Alchemy workshops with Phillips, we dove into the details of beneficial fungal connections and how fungi create symbiotic relationships with plants and plant networks, soil building and the importance of all trace minerals, the immune system and physiology of orchard plants, the role of biodiversity in providing services to the plant community you are cultivating and the environment at large- including beneficial insects that will eat your pests, holistic orchard products and ways to produce your own from available materials. The work that Michael Phillips does aligns with much of what we encourage in POP Orchards and Food Forests.

Community activist Karen Washington addresses the crisis of malnourishment that affects 795 million people worldwide.

Other notable highlights included a keynote address and breakout sessions with the formidable Karen Washington of Rise & Root Farm, a community activist whose work in New York City explores food access, justice, and sovereignty at the intersections of race, class, gender, climate change, and the current economic and political systems. A powerhouse of knowledge and passion, Washington inspired dynamic conversations among attendees — exploring and depicting what food justice and sovereignty look and feel like, truly, in an era where the terms themselves can be threatened by rhetorical overuse if not embodied.

To grow your own food gives you power and dignity. You know exactly what youre eating because you grew it.  Its good, its nourishing and you did this for yourself, your family and your community.” Karen Washington

The PASA conference is a magical place, where you get to meet and hear from knowledgeable farmers from all over you would probably never come across other than on their farms, as well as busy urban farmers that you might also never see unless you’re working together to plant, prune, weed, mulch, and harvest.

We were happy to see Philadelphia well represented with Soil Generation Solidarity uprooting racism, Norris Square Neighborhood Project teaching hyper-local apothecary skills, Heritage Farm with high functioning high tunnels, Robyn Mello distilling her urban social and landscape ecosystem design considerations, Cloud 9 Rooftop Farm discussing small space and vertical gardening with recycled materials, many other Philly farmers running around and in discussion, and an urban farmer meetup hosted by Urban Tree Connection, Penn State Extension, and The Food Trust.

More good news for Philly area farmers- next year’s conference will be closer- to be held in Lancaster rather than State College. We highly recommend attending in the future if it’s your jam!  

This conference recap was written by Orchard Director Michael Muehlbauer, with contributions from Education Director Alyssa Schimmel. 

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