Pittsburgh Farm To Table Conference

Last weekend I visited the 5th Annual Farm To Table Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which has the aim to help area residents “Eat Healthy & Local All Year ‘Round”.

This event is a blessing to many residents of Southwestern PA as a strong counter culture is growing within the city, and out on area farms, among people who have a desire to return to a time when our food was local, sustainable, diverse, and organic. The conference has built enough prestige (or sponsorship, as it may be) to be hosted at the city’s premier exhibit space, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which is the “first ‘green’ convention center in the world, and the only meeting venue to be awarded the Gold LEED® Certification by the US Green Building Council.”  http://www.pittsburghcc.com/cc/

The two-day event featured a full schedule of speakers and demonstrations, with topics ranging from lectures on our sustainable food supply and reasons to go solar, to canning, composting, and plant-based nutrition.

The conference also gave attendees the opportunity to connect with local growers, organic vendors, and other organizations related to healthy, sustainable food.  To be honest, I pessimistically expected the event to feel like it had been hijacked by large commercial interests (it’s so rare that this is not the case, right?).  Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.  Sure – most of the exhibitors were selling something (goat cheese, maple syrup, wine, and gardening kits, as well as info on the sale of produce and grass-fed meat).  But, as it turned out, the vast majority were also small, local ventures with the owners / purveyors on-site to educate you directly about the food they sell.

While I would love to share with you all that I learned while visiting the conference, in the interest of brevity I will profile a few of the exhibitors and speakers that I met.

CSAs and PASA

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, or PASA, is “Promoting Profitable Farms that Produce Healthy Food for All People While Respecting the Natural Environment”.  One of the organization’s most notable achievements is its Buy Fresh Buy Local® program that connects consumers with local farmers and puts out a directory of Community Supported Agriculture in Western Pennsylvania.  What is Consumer Supported Agriculture, you ask?  CSAs are farms that typically deliver boxes of goods weekly to subscribing consumers during the growing season.  The subscribers pay a set amount upfront, which enables the farmers to spend their time during the harvest focusing on the crop, rather than on the sale.  These are invariably local or regional farmers who often follow organic growing methods, even if the produce is not certified as organic.  And it enables consumers to buy quality, fresh produce at very reasonable prices while getting to know where their food comes from.

NOW (late winter / early spring) is the time of year to get connected with a CSA in your area.  Residents of Pennsylvania can visit www.buylocalpa.org.  Residents elsewhere in the U.S. can visit www.localharvest.org, which provides a wealth of information on CSAs, as well as other ways to find fresh, organic, and local foods.

HEMP

Another interesting booth that I visited was a vendor of foods that come from hemp.  I know you’re thinking “marijuana?” right now, so let me defuse that.  Both marijuana and hemp are varieties of Cannabis, but marijuana gets you high.  Hemp does not.  Hemp is a super useful crop that can be harvested for food, paper, and textiles, and it’s a ready candidate to help us combat some of the major environmental crises that are related to paper- and cotton-based products.  Our enormous global consumption of paper from trees is partly to blame for deforestation all over the world, which has a number of environmental impacts, including global warming and animal extinction.  Cotton production is very detrimental to the environment because of the amount of pesticides required to bring in the crops.  Hemp, on the other hand, does not carry the same burdens, and it is very effective at absorbing large amounts of CO2 from the air.

In general, hemp can be purchased or consumed in the U.S., but not grown.  This is an issue that gets little mainstream exposure, due to hemp’s relation to marijuana, but it’s one you might want to keep on your radar.  You also might consider picking up the next hemp food product that you come across.  The Hemp Seed snack that I bought at the conference is not only tasty, but rich in essential fatty acids, protein, vitamins, and minerals, too!

More information about hemp in the U.S. and to sign a petition to allow American farms to grow hemp freely, click here.

OUR SUSTAINABLE FOOD SUPPLY

Finally, I would like to give credit to Patty DeMarco, PhD and Director of the Rachel Carson Institute at Chatham University for her thorough, yet succinct, overview of our food system.  She explained, in easily understandable terms, global issues relating to food production, such as the use of pesticides, the decline of biodiversity over the past 100 or so years, and the impact of eating food that travels thousands of miles to get to our plates.  She also explained how all these issues relate and how they affect all of us now, as well as how they likely will affect us in the very near future.

I intend to pursue additional information from her presentation to impart upon you, so check back for updates, or send me a comment if you have any questions.

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1 Comment

  1. Now Serving: Affordable Produce and Food Demonstrations at Pittsburgh’s Farm Stands « Two Dancing Buckeyes

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