Food Alliance has come to mean a lot to me in the last few months, but the first I had heard of it was when Dickinson College Farm got the certification last year. Coming to college from the suburbs of Columbia, MD, I never expected to become interested in agriculture, but during my freshman year, I began volunteering at the college’s production and educational farm, and I was hooked from there. I started working at the farm during my sophomore year, studied various environmental studies subjects abroad in Costa Rica and Israel during my junior year, and by the time I had resumed my post at the farm during senior year, Food Alliance had entered the picture. The non-profit sustainable agriculture organization had just certified our college farm for using progressive practices that protect both the farm ecology and the people who work there. Still, I toiled away, getting back into the swing of things both on campus and at the farm, focusing my efforts on compost in particular in both my work and through my yearlong scientific research project on various compost applications. In the following video clip, I am mixing up a batch of potting soil from worm compost we produce on-site.
I began to develop an interest in agroecology from the shade-grown (forest-based) coffee farms I had visited in Costa Rica, my readings of all the benefits of applying compost in various ways, and from learnng about Cuba’s agroecological farming system that has prevailed in its urban areas (in preparation for a trip with a school program during spring break of this year). Thus, I was drawn toward Food Alliance as I longed to support environmental and social responsibility in agriculture in any way that I could.
I signed on to complete an academic internship with Food Alliance for this semester, and I thank Roberta Anderson, Food Alliance Business Development Director, and Jenn Halpin, Dickinson College Farm Manager, for the terrific opportunity. Food Alliance was looking for help growing its new Partner Farm Program, in which research and education based farms achieve certification and creatively partner with Food Alliance to spread the word about sustainability in practice. The video clip below gives a brief introduction about the internship and myself:
Part of learning about the Partner Farm Program was grasping what made Dickinson College Farm the first one. The following video clip, featuring Jenn Halpin, provides some background on our operations:
Dickinson College Farm not only educates its student farm workers and volunteers, but also welcomes students from various fields through course activities and tours. Furthermore, we hold programs open to community members such as our monthly Sustainability Series workshops, which are part of a statewide educational programming initiative with the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). The workshops have such titles as Landscaping for the Birds and the Bees and Ins and Outs of Renewable Energy Options for Homeowners. For the Partner Farm Program, Food Alliance is especially interested in reaching “food-focused” students or future farmers. Dickinson College Farm’s apprenticeship program, open to student farmer recent graduates like myself, does just this by giving us the opportunity to work a full growing season while we lead student farmers and educational programs.
Thus, our status as a Partner Farm supports our mission, allowing us to educate our campus and local community about sustainable agriculture through this meaningful eco-label and its valuable evaluation tools. Through my Food Alliance internship, I found that numerous farms across the country could contribute to the Partner Farm Program, non-profit educational farms, demonstration farms and college- or university-affiliated farms alike. I reached out to the potential Partner Farms in the Mid-Atlantic region, putting Food Alliance on their radar to return to in the less busy winter months. Their receptivity of the program, both from those already holding other certifications and those without, demonstrated its potential in this region, which will contribute tremendously to consumer and producer awareness of Food Alliance and its associated sustainable agriculture practices. Lastly, I was involved in organizing the first Food Alliance Partner Farm event, a mock inspection, on Dickinson College Farm. My internship blog provides further information.
The PASA-sponsored Mock Inspection field day, welcomed folks from Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, VA, Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, PA, Four Seasons Produce, Inc. based in Ephrata, PA, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and more. The eclectic group displayed various levels of previous knowledge of Food Alliance, which sparked interesting conversation throughout the day’s events. The two main elements were a farm tour with Jenn in the morning, throughout which Bill Marose, the inspector, would ask questions as if he were conducting the inspection, and a “classroom” review in the afternoon using the Whole Farm Inspection Tool with Bill, Jenn, and Susan Beal, PASA’s Ag Science Advisor. Dru Peters of Sunnyside Farm and Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm, both already certified for-profit farms, contributed to the conversation with their experiences throughout the inspection process. Andy Andrews from Pennypack Farm & Education Center in Horsham, PA, the second Partner Farm was also in attendance in preparation for their inspection. The Dickinson and PASA hosts and attendees alike enjoyed the event a learned a lot about Food Alliance certification processes and its potential for growth in the Mid-Atlantic region. As Bill so eloquently advised, “You have to be your own advocate in the inspection process.” The video clip below shows some highlights from the field day:
Stay tuned for more Mock Inspections and other Food Alliance educational events as more Partner Farms are established.