Members of Chatham’s Masters of Arts in Food Studies program and Masters of Arts in Food Studies/MBA (MAFS/MBA) dual-degree program recently had the unique opportunity to travel to a local agricultural hot spot and plow head-first into the rapidly-blooming realm of sustainable agriculture.
The site of this sustainability-themed summit? The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) Farming for the Future Conference! Held the first week of February on Penn State’s campus in State College, PASA’s Farming for the Future Conference allows Chatham graduate students interested in both the fields of Business and Food Studies to immerse themselves in the regional community of sustainable agriculture. In addition to covering a range of agricultural topics, the PASA conference also addresses business and entrepreneurial opportunities for students, professionals, small farm-related business owners, and farmers within the field of sustainable agriculture.
Each morning of the conference started with a rustic breakfast featuring 100% Pennsylvania-grown, sustainably-produced items like hearty multi-grain bread, rich chocolate milk and creamy butter from local dairy cows. After the morning pick-me-up, conference attendees headed to their chosen workshops for the day. Each workshop featured presentations and interactive discussions led by prominent, successful farm-related business owners and other experts in the sustainable agriculture field. The workshops Chatham students took part in covered a vast array of topics, such as The Most Effective Pricing and Marketing Techniques Involved in Growing Cut Flowers for Market, to Growing Food & Community through Multi-Plot Urban Farming and many more. Chatham professors encouraged independent discovery and learning at the conference, and urged each student to attend whichever workshops matched up with their specific academic and professional interests and aspirations.
PASA chose “Hope, Farm, Heal,” as the theme of this year’s conference. Workshop facilitators and the keynote speakers expertly wove the theme into the underlying fabric of the content being discussed. Gabe Brown, a successful farmer and soil expert who owns and operates his 5,000+ acre ranch in North Dakota, was a notably entertaining, personable, and inspirational keynote speaker at the conference. His presentation emphasized the importance of the restorative nature of sustainable farming in order to both maximize profits for current sustainable farmers, as well as to ensure healthy profitable soils on farms for future generations.
Chatham graduate students who attended the PASA conference valued the experience for a multitude of reasons. When asked about her time at the conference, Dana Angstadt, part of the MAFS/MBA dual degree program, relayed that “the PASA conference provided a wealth of information and an opportunity to network and learn from prominent farmers and agriculturalists.” Similarly, Sophie Slesinger, a fellow member of the MAFS/MBA dual degree program and a Business and Entrepreneurship Department Graduate Assistant asserted “PASA helped us to see the intersection of business and food in a real way. We spoke with farmers, agriculture advisors, and producers making a living in their own way. It was an invaluable experience.”
The students from Chatham’s graduate programs who experienced PASA’s Farming for the Future conference now have the opportunity to utilize their newly acquired knowledge on sustainable agriculture in classes and hopefully in their future careers. PASA’s aspirational message from the conference to “Hope, Farm, Heal.” may even inspire the newest generation of sustainable farmers in Pennsylvania to look upon the age-old practice of agriculture in a new and different way.