Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Energy

Dennis Hall from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture asked me if I, " felt the energy" here at the PASA conference. I sure do and I can feel everyone buzzing around me. Shuffling down a hallway behind folks who just attended, with me, a great workshop on urban gardening put on by Lisa Mosca and Sharat Samashekara with Philadelphia Green's City Harvest program, I heard folks comment, "that was so inspiring" and "I wonder if we could do that at home?"

I, too, am inspired. I am packed solid with story ideas and contacts after attending this conference. Thanks so much to PASA for sponsoring the event. Stop by in a couple days (I'm traveling home soon) and check out on going postings inspired by this conference.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Quotes of the day - Laura chats

-In a witty sum up of the story of Adam and Eve, Brian Snyder said, "The price of wisdom is that you must farm."

-Keynote speaker Raj Patel ended his fabulous presentation with this, "We need to remember that we are not consumers of democracy, we are the proprietors."

I want to share good news about happenings in the PA legislature thanks to State Rep. David Kesller, D-Berks, but I want to do it justice so that will take a little more time and a couple of phone calls. I don't think anyone would be happy to talk with me at almost 9pm on a Friday. But in sum, Kessler was instrumental is securing $500,000 in the state budget to help conventional farms move to organic Farming.

Raj Patel's keynote speech also deserves some significant time from me before I try to condense any of his extremely thoughtful and intelligent comments to fit this space. I can tell you now, if you are a person who is concerned about the state of food in this world, well, just a person concerned about the world, you won't regret spending time with his book, "Stuffed and Starved."

Check him out:

Finally, I want to really wrap my head around the theme of this year's conference: "The Worldwide Search for Food Sovereignty: Finding Your Foodshed." I want to bring in other voices as well. Look for continuing stories from the conference even after the conference ends Saturday 2/7/9.

Combating Greenwashing

Noting that it's a time ripe for greenwashing, Food Alliance Executive Director, Scott Exo, announced Friday that Food Alliance had formed an alliance with PASA. Food Alliance is an Oregon based non-profit that certifies farms as sustainable. The partnership will extend food alliance certification processes to farmers, food packers, processors and distributors in Pennsylvania.

Explaining the need for certification, Brian Snyder, Executive Director of PASA, said, "I'm tired of people using the word sustainable any way they want to. It has a specific meaning." Snyder wants to help consumers make informed decisions about their food purchases by giving them a basis for evaluating marketing claims. A third party certification would give credibility to marketing claims.

The certification considers a number of factors including safe and fair working conditions, healthy and humane treatment of animals, and conservation. Use of genetic modified crops or livestock, use of synthetic hormones, and use of non-therapeutic antibiotics are prohibited.

Good economic news from PASA

Someone's hiring! Today, I learned there are more than 230 CSA's in Pennsylvania. There were at least five of them actively looking for interns during a job fair at the PASA conference. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Typically, members join an organic or sustainable farm, buying a share for a fee. Members then pick up locally grown, healthy vegetables each week during the growing season.

Thanks to two Central PA CSA's, Spiral Path Farm in Loysville and Lady Moon Farms in Chambersburg, for being sponsors of the conference.

Other employment opportunities are listed on the PASA website. Check it out:

Run the numbers

About a quarter of my notebook is filled with notes from opening festivities of the PASA conference. Already! It was just the first three hours. I can't possibly share all of it with you now. I need time to reflect and talk with others. One thing Executive Director Brian Snyder spoke about which is both illustrative and short, is the attendance.

He said nearly 2000 people are here. There are 32 colleges and universities represented. 100 college students. 1100 farmers representing, to their best estimate, 48,000 acres. People from 30 states and 6 countries. Finally he noted with appreciation, that there are 700 people who are attending the conference for the first time. That number includes me.

So if I feel a little overwhelmed by how much I'm learning, I imagine there are 699 others here who feel somewhat the same.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Harlan-isms at Pasa

For this, you need video. The entertainment value of Harlan Holmes' dramatic gestures combined with a fresh sense of humor can't be well-understood separately. But here's a peek.

Harlan is a veteran, self-described, " backyard gardener." I would add guru. His ease with conducting the course probably comes from a background of teaching. He was supposedly teaching an intro to vegetable gardening. But I learned wheelbarrows full of info and I've gardened for 10 years or more. Here's just a couple quotes. If you like them, let me know and I will post a few more.

When speaking of why you need brown with your green for composting, and cannot just pile up grass or other green, moist plant material, Harlan says: " A pile of grass clippings becomes (he's getting really animated here) a loathesome mass of putrification!"

Explaining why corn seeds sometimes need to be treated to avoid a disease called smut, Harlan says, " With treated seeds you get no smut. And I like no smut!"

Finally, a truism that, while not necessarily humorous, I will remember. And probably steal. When describing his preference for rock phosphate over bone meal, he said bone meal works faster but the idea of bones possibly having some problem, made him steer away. " I don't need fast. I'm on Nature's time." Love it.
The PASA conference is held at the Penn Stater on the outskirts of State College, PA. I've been at the Penn Stater conference center several times before. Each time was for journalism awards banquets. The best part of those events was seeing familiar faces of journalists I'd known for years.

This time, I didn't expect to see familiar faces. But I have. I've seen the face of every farmer I've ever met or photographed. Every type of person you can imagine growing food in Pennsylvania is here. There is the farmer who started farming as a child still farming at 80 years-old. There are folks who started organic farms in the '70's, plain farmers, and young environmentalists all stylish with piercings interested in urban gardening. Actually, I've seen every type of person. Period.

Interest in food has brought us together. There is something very primal about food that unites us. What a great place to start.

Speaking of starting, many of you know that this is a temporary blog space while we await the hatching of Below is a mock up I gave to a web developer showing what I thought I might like the site to look like.

Someone asked me today if I was an artist. I said no. So it will be interesting to see what experienced web-artist does with my conception. I felt kinda bad walking away from that conversation, though. I realized, that I, as a long time photographer, had insulted all of us by not claiming the title of artist. So yes, I am an artist.

Pasa Thursday - Organic preference?

I'd heard that organically grown plants were more vigorous and hardier. No one, until today, had given me the "why. "

I gained some insight on that from talking with one of the many vendors here at the "Farming for the Future" conference. And from attending the "21st Century Victory Garden" seminar.

The core of the answer came as I spoke with vendors Bruce and Carmen Pape, proprietors of Deep Grass Nursery in Greenwood, Delaware. The Papes grow starter vegetable plants that they ship to locales as diverse as Iowa and Puerto Rico. The Papes explained, that even though they are certified organic growers, many conventional farmers prefer their plants because they thrive in the field.

Conventional vegetable starter plant growers use soluble salt fertilizers and spray to prevent disease problems. The Pape's, and other organic growers, use kelp or other organic fertilizers. Bruce Pape explained, " Organic fertilizer is slower reacting and longer lasting than conventional fertilizers. Plants green slower but stay green longer." Carmen said there is evidence that organic fertilizers also allow plants to absorb micro-nutrients better. Applying a soluble salt fertilizer shocks the plant like a sugar rush.

A plant grown in a controlled environment like a greenhouse and given regular doses of fertilizer might have a harder time standing up to mother nature. Plants raised with methods similar to the Pape's , organically and allowed to acclimate in a field or a vented greenhouse, are less stressed when transplanted to the field. Carmen said many of their customers buy from them, not especially because they are organic, but because of the quality of their plants. They note thick stems and beautiful roots.

Harlan Holmes helped me further understand the soil's role in helping organically grown plants flourish. The soil is home to micro-organisms that break down organic matter into nutrients plants need to grow. Earthworm's aerate the soil and leave nitrogen rich droppings. If plants and soil are treated with chemicals, the soil becomes inhospitable to the little critters that live under the ground that are beneficial. Chemicals effect both the beneficial and harmful pests in the same way.

Harlan mentioned his love of garden experimentation. I am curious if any of you have done any - possibly unscientific experiments- that have swayed you toward organic growing or conventional growing. Maybe for you, like Harlan Holmes and the Papes, many years of experience has shown you a path to success one way or the other. I'd like to know.

For more info on Deep Grass Nursery, try or

Pasa Thursday lunch

I'm torn. I want to be actively covering this event. Meaning, part of me thinks I should be talking with organizers here at The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture "Farming for the Future" conference to find out, you know, how many people are here, or the history of the conference.

But the student is me is winning out. I am in a lecture riveted by Harlan Holmes who is teaching a track called, " 21rst Century Victory Garden: Growing Your Food and Energizing Your Community." More on that later.

Nearly 120 have crowded this room. The people are amazing. There is so much diversity in age and race and gender and we are all hungry for knowledge that will allow us to grow our own food. We are also all laughing with Harlan because he has a great sense of humor and the animation to back it up.

I met a true student at lunch. A beautiful, smart young woman who had a goal for her lunch of finding someone to tell her how to raise chickens in her backyard in Pittsburgh. She simply asked the question of the diners at her table at lunch and got her answer. Another woman sitting across from her had the answers. She had four backyard chickens.

Remembering the scenery I enjoyed as I drove here, I decided the student in me should win out. I have so much to learn in order to do my little part. I'm thinking really learning this stuff will help me pass it on more effectively.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Winter Green

PASA Conference

In the early spring, when I see little shoots of green poking through the earth, I feel no urgent desire to see the full tulip bloom. I enjoy spying day to day subtle changes in the plant, coupled with the knowledge that bulbs will indeed bloom soon.

With Punk Rock Gardens, I do feel urgency to see our blog bloom. And part of that is my desire to share experiences and information I gather from the - very shortly up-coming - Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture "Farming for the Future" conference.

The conference will be held in State College, Pennsylvania February 5th through 7th, 2009.

Our permanent site,, is still in hibernation. So to enable me to post from the conference, I've set up this blog on blogspot. Once the full site is up and running, I will post features for the home gardener. Topics for stories from the PASA conference include the 21rst century victory garden and organic pest management for vegetable gardens. See you from the conference.