HARRISBURG – The state Senate and House Agriculture and Rural Affairs committees gathered today for a hearing at the PA Farm Show to discuss the five-year impact of the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Bill with the main theme of those conversations being agriculture education and access.
The hearing was led by Senate committee leaders, Majority Chair Sen. Elder Vogel, Jr. (R-47) and Democratic Chair Sen. Judy Schwank (D-11), and House committee leaders, Majority Chair Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski (D-121) and Republican Chair Rep. Dan Moul (R-91).
“Today’s hearing was incredibly productive as we witnessed the immense impact of the PA Farm Bill since its inception in 2019,” said Vogel. “Many of the grants that were instituted through this bill have allowed for farmers and agricultural organizations to expand their practices, acquire needed equipment, and better educate those involved in their day-to-day business. This feedback will allow for us to formulate future legislation that will build on the foundations we began with as well as provide improvements that were brought to our attention today.”
“Pennsylvania’s unique distinction as the only state to enact its own Farm Bill is a source of great pride for all those who contributed to crafting the legislation five years ago,” said Schwank. “We now have an opportunity ahead of us to continue backing our agriculture sector and further establish Pennsylvania as a leader in innovative ways to support our hardworking farmers through the 2024 Farm Bill. I’m excited to kick off this process with today’s hearing and look forward to collaborating with Sen. Vogel and our House colleagues on this important endeavor.”
Highlighted by several of the testifiers was the ability to expand upon overall agriculture education which was made possible through the various grant opportunities included in the Farm Bill.
During his testimony, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding discussed the successes of the Farm to School grant program, which is aimed at bringing farmers, future agriculturalists and communities together by increasing agriculture education opportunities for pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade as well as furthering access to healthy local foods. Redding said the program has awarded $2.5 million to 235 projects in 49 counties.
Dominique Bernardo, CEO of Variety – the Children’s Charity of the Delaware Valley, discussed how her organization has utilized funding they received from the Agriculture and Youth grant program and the Urban Ag Infrastructure grant program established through the Farm Bill. This funding allowed her organization to provide educational materials and key supplies to operate its greenhouse and make space more accessible to students.
Since 2019, Variety has received a combined $46,500 from the above-mentioned grant programs and this week was awarded an additional $7,500 in Agriculture and Youth grant funds, which will go towards inclusive agricultural vocational training for youth with disabilities.
Another main theme throughout this hearing was the expansion of resource and equipment access.
Klinedell Farms owner, John Kline explained how through the Farm Bill’s PA Farm Vitality Planning grant program he and his wife Sharon were able to secure professional assistance to successful begin the path to transition their farm to the next generation – his children and grandchildren.
Through the funding from both the Urban Ag Infrastructure and PA Farm Vitality grant programs, Grow Pittsburgh’s Executive Director Denele Hughson shared how her organization has been able to invest in their community by distributing resources; create an urban agricultural hub; purchase and construct two new community greenhouses at their newest Wilkensburg site; and distribute materials like soil, seeds, plants, tools, necessary equipment for food growing at 50 community gardens and farms and more than 400 home gardens in Alleghany County to name a few.
“The PA Farm Bill has made historic investments in our Commonwealth’s top industry and today’s meeting was an inspiring opportunity to hear from a handful of the many Pennsylvania farmers and producers who have benefited from its programs,” said Pashinski. “From dairy farmers to urban growers, to meat processors – and everything in between – for five years our Farm Bill has helped to connect and support PA’s diverse ag industries, ensuring a strong agricultural future for our commonwealth. I want to thank Secretary Redding and his Department for turning this legislation in to a reality, and look forward to working with him, my colleagues in the legislature, and the Ag community to ensure this progress continues for many, many, years to come.”
“In the five years since the Pennsylvania Farm Bill was established, it has proven successful in helping existing farmers improve, grow and sustain their operations. It has also provided the assistance necessary for the growth and development of new and innovative farming operations like urban and niche farms. The impact of this assistance extends well beyond the farm, providing Pennsylvania residents access to a diversity of nutritious foods,” said Moul.
Full list of hearing testifiers included Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, PA Forest Products Association’s Executive Director Matt Gabler, LEAF Project CEO Heidi Witmer, John Kline from Klinedell Farms, Lisa Freeman from Freeman Family Farm, Hilltop Urban Farm’s Executive Director John Bixler, Beau Ramsberg from Rettland Farms, Variety’s CEO Dominique Bernardo, and Grow Pittsburgh’s Executive Director Denele Hughson.
To watch the full joint committee hearing, click here.