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Pennsylvania Tour Highlights Role of Specialty-Food Businesses, Organics Producers in Local Food Economy

August 2013

Photo of ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl and USDA Deputy Under Secretary Joani Walsh with Bonfatto’s Spice Cream owner David Letterman on August 5, 2013, during a visit to the company as part of ARC's Pennsylvania Jobs and Local Food Systems Tour.
ARC's Pennsylvania Jobs and Local Food Systems Tour highlighted specialty-food businesses including Bonfatto's Spice Cream in Lewistown. On August 5, ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl (center) and USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Joani Walsh spoke with Bonfatto's owner David Letterman about the company's product development and marketing efforts. Bonfatto's participates in the "PA Preferred" program marketing agricultural products made in Pennsylvania. (Photo by Guy Land/ARC)

ARC and federal, state, and local officials visited food producers and farms in Pennsylvania August 5–7 as part of the Commission's ongoing Jobs and Local Food Systems Tour, examining the potential of local food systems to create economic opportunity in the Appalachian Region. The Pennsylvania tour—the tenth held in the Appalachian states since March—showcased specialty-food businesses and organics producers, highlighting their role in the local food economy and opportunities for and barriers to market growth.

ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl was joined by USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Joani Walsh and Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) Executive Director Brian Snyder for the tour's August 5 kickoff meeting with Tuscarora Organic Growers, a cooperative of organic fruit and vegetable farmers in south-central Pennsylvania. Through the cooperative, members from a seven-county area have coordinated production and marketing to increase their sales, focusing on high-demand markets in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. The meeting was followed by a visit to cooperative member Village Acres Farm in Mifflintown, a 20-year organics producer and longtime follower of the community-supported agriculture (CSA) model.

Photo of ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl and officials at the Boalsburg Farmers Market on August 6, 2013.
The Pennsylvania tour also included a visit to the Boalsburg Farmers Market, where all products are locally grown or produced. This approach provides income opportunities for area farmers and producers and supports job creation. (Photo by Guy Land/ARC)

The tour continued with a stop at specialty-food producer Bonfatto's Spice Cream in Lewistown, a growing family-owned and -operated business that participates in the "PA Preferred" program marketing products made or grown in Pennsylvania. The program has developed marketing campaigns and built relationships with key retailers to promote sales of participants' products.

Officials then visited Tait Farm Foods in Centre Hall for an overview of the family farm's organics production and CSA enterprise serving local restaurants, a farmers market, and the farm's onsite retail store. The farm also produces more than 50 specialty-food products that it sells in the store. Following the farm tour, officials participated in a PASA event marking Centre County Local Foods Week. PASA is the largest statewide member-based sustainable farming organization in the United States, working to strengthen Pennsylvania food and farming systems' economic viability and environmental soundness.

August 6 tour activities focused on visits to a number of specialty-foods producers, including Altoona-based companies Bella Lucia and Better Batter, and discussion of their product development, marketing strategies, and export efforts. As manufacturers of gluten-free products, both Better Batter and Bella Lucia are positioning their operations for continued growth with the increasing demand for gluten-free foods. Better Batter has also expanded into the Canadian market, while Bella Lucia is preparing to establish export sales there soon. Officials later toured the Boalsburg Farmers Market, where all products for sale are locally grown or produced, an approach that helps keep money in the local economy and support job creation.

On August 7 participants visited the 30-acre organic Quiet Creek Herb Farm and School of Country Living in Brookville, which provides all-ages education programs on sustainability, environmental stewardship, and healthy lifestyle choices. The tour continued to Stello Foods in Punxsutawney, which began as a small business producing specialty foods based on family recipes and has grown into a large-scale manufacturer of products for hundreds of companies. Officials also visited Fabin Brothers Farms in Indiana, a 3,000-acre diversified farm that grows, buys, and markets corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay, both growing its own products and creating value-added products by processing other farms' crops in its manufacturing facilities.

The tour concluded at Weatherbury Farm in Avella, a family-owned sustainable organic farm that sells its products directly to the consumer. It is also the only small farm producing "estate" flours: All steps in the production process, from planting and harvesting to grain cleaning and milling, take place on the farm.

ARC launched the Appalachian Jobs and Local Food Systems Tour in Asheville, North Carolina, on March 20 at a conference of the Appalachia Funders Network, an informal association of national, regional, and local foundations that has identified local food systems as a priority for funding. The tour has since then included visits to Maryland, South Carolina, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, in addition to Pennsylvania.