Every winter since February of 1992, farmers, land stewards, educators, advocates, food systems workers and those who collaborate with the spirits of the soil, the water, the trees and the seeds from all across Pennsylvania and beyond, gather together for three days to deepen their understanding of sustainable farming practices and to build connections with their peers, mentors and heroes all across the region. This year, a small group of POP staff headed to the heart of historic downtown Lancaster, PA to attend this communion of growers and shakers at Pasa’s 2024 Sustainable Agriculture Conference. Pasa’s mission is to cultivate “environmentally sound, economically viable, community-focused farms and food systems… through farmer-driven education, research and community.”

POP Staff at Pasa top left to right: Corrie Spellman Lopez, Phil Forsyth, Julian D’Andrea bottom left to right: Simone Shemshedini, Sharon Appiah, Deja Morgan / not pictured the incomparable Carolina Torres!

Pasa’s highly anticipated winter conference features three days of 70+ sessions on farming and food systems, social & networking events and a tradeshow full of valuable products, services, resources and more. This year, POP staff returned not only as attendees, but also taught two sessions for the first time since 2020! Two of POP’s most staple and extensive resource series, POPCORE 1: Year Round Orchard Care & POPCORE 2: Pest & Disease Management, were presented in condensed and beginner friendly presentations on day two of the conference. Phil Forsyth and Sharon Appiah co-facilitated Eco-Orchard Pest and Disease Management an intro to best practices for pest and disease management in an ecological orchard; while Corrie Spellman-Lopez, Julian D’Andrea and Simone Shemshedini presented a beginner’s guide to Fruit Tree Winter Pruning, just in time for the pruning season. 

This year, POP was in good company and Pasa continued to expand their orchard-related offerings with sessions on topics such as:

> Edible Eco-System Design
> Hardy Pest & Disease-Resistant Berries
> Growing Nuts in Temperate Climates
> Resilient Native Fruiting Plants

Here is what some of POP staff had to say about the sessions they attended:

“In my morning intensive on soil [Soil Health, Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Planning] we learned about differentiating climate adaptation (defensive approach) and mitigation (offensive approach) which I found really interesting. Folks in this session also shared about innovative ways to deal with new pests that are coming forward as the climate changes in their areas. There was a long discussion on groundhogs where someone experienced success with lowering their groundhog intrusions by installing a fence that goes 2 feet into the ground! I also attended a portion of a workshop where we did a brief meditation into what an old growth food forest would look like, that was lovely!” – Carolina Torres, POP Orchard Coordinator

Presentation from Allison Levy and Scott Serrano on ‘Hardy Pest & Disease Resistant Berries’, slide featuring Himalayan Chocolate Berry / Photo Credit: Phil Forsyth

“This was one of the best PASA conferences I’ve experienced over the past 15 years, with wide-ranging and relevant workshops from a diversity of speakers and viewpoints.  As always, the highlight was connecting and reconnecting with so many other farmers, both from Philly and the region.  Things I learned ranged from improvised devices for dehusking black walnuts to the complexity of biodynamic compost preparations to the cathartic joy of a roomful of urban farmers singing Lauryn Hill together at a Karaoke bar!” – Phil Forsyth, POP Co-Executive Director

And Phil was not the only one who felt like this was one of the best Pasa conferences! Perhaps it was the radical new moon energy or the unseasonably warm winter walks through Lancaster’s quaint downtown, but the feeling of community and energizing movement to make changes for the collective good were resoundingly felt. This was most distinctly palpable during Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin’s keynote session on Systems Change in Agriculture: A Return to the Planet’s Own Design. During this gripping and powerful presentation, Reginaldo talked about the large-scale regenerative poultry model he has established around the country, inspired and led by the ancestral knowledge he learned while growing up in Guatemala. As Co-Founder and CEO of Tree Range Farms, he and his wife are restoring over 60 acres of land that was once a field rotated between corn and soybeans. The session was a sermon and a call to action to recognize and practice regenerative agriculture not as it has been white-washed and repackaged, but as an “Ancestral, Indigenous, way of Thinking, Being, Knowing, a way of Relating to all living systems, a way of Working, a way of Living!” As Reginaldo put it “Collective ownership, control, and governance of the whole system are central to regenerative design.”  It was impossible not to leave the session as if a light had been lit in the core of your being. 

Keynote Speaker Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin
PA Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding presenting the Pasabilities Community Leadership Award to POP partner True Love Seeds. 

Philadelphia’s Urban Ag community showed out at Pasa this year, with friends of POP such as Sankofa Community Farm, Mill Creek Urban Farm, Farm Philly’s Carousel House Farm, Urban Creators, and most notably Pasa’s 2024 Community Leadership Award Recipients, True Love Seeds who POP has partnered with in previous seasons to provide seeds for crops such as Clemson Spineless Okra and Landreth Stringless Beans. It was wonderful to take the time to take stock and be a part of the beautiful community of people who each represent the shared values of exchanging knowledge, learning together and community-oriented work into the Pasa space. Also, across the board, those who were in attendance at the after hours karaoke all agreed that Philadelphia arrived and shut Lancaster down! 

As we settle into the new season by pruning trees, drafting crop plans and planning workshops we have been energized by the gift of gathering, are excited to return next year and hope to see you there!

This conference recap was written by Orchard Director Sharon Appiah with contributions from Orchard Coordinator Carolina Torres and Co-Executive Director Phil Forsyth