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An Excerpt From Tom Beddard’s Speech at PASA’s 24th Annual Farming for the Future Conference

February 2015

I was trying to think about what I was going to write today. It’s kind of a love letter to PASA.  But it does start out a little slow, so please…stay with me.

So as I sit here today thinking about what it is I will say to everyone at the 24th annual PASA conference the wind is howling as it often is at my Chambersburg farm.  The air is arctic, the fields are frozen and covered in white, and yet the days are already noticeably longer than just a month ago.  This spring will be my 27th year planting a certified organic vegetable crop in Pennsylvania. 27 years ago – wow. My wife was still beside me, my kids were still sleeping in their beds in my house, and PASA wasn’t even born.  And in many ways the strength and diversity of the agricultural community in Pennsylvania and America is much stronger than it was then. Today, the USDA recognizes organics as a separate and distinct production system that is economically viable and in fact is the primary reason for so many rural communities enjoying a renaissance of sorts, particularly here in Pennsylvania. The local war movement has gone global, grass based systems for producing milk and meat are gaining in numbers every year as is the number of certified organic acres, again, both nationally and globally. Land grant universities, the bedrock for much of the research and development in agriculture in this country have, after what seemed a very long time, finally opened their doors to the promise of what organic and sustainable production systems mean to our rural communities.

And perhaps the most gratifying change that has the potential to have the biggest impact is creating a food system everyone here is striving for is the interest, support and participation of the non-farm community. People who live miles from any farms, more than likely have no farmers in the family, perhaps have never stepped foot on a farm of any kind, are making it their newfound passion for knowing where it is their food is coming from, who it is growing it and under what kind of production system. In a consumer driven economy, it is essential that for any business to succeed, it must find customers.

When a business has customers that have an emotional stake in what it is that business does, well that’s what’s known as a customer for life. Aren’t we a blessed group to have a customer base as passionate about supporting our goals for a sustainable food system as we are in bringing that food system into the main stream. Of all the changes I’ve seen in my 27 years in the business, it is without doubt the commitment of our customers to the products we bring to the market, that gives me the greatest measure of hope for tomorrow.

As farmers, often we’re like cats. We go our own way, on our own timelines, and can be impossible to herd. But weren’t we all lucky, when back in 1992, in a small schoolroom somewhere in this general vicinity, a group of like-minded individuals came together to discuss the creation of an organization that would help to educate, support, and give voice to what then was quite the collection of free-thinkers, romantics, idealists, public servants, educators, and farmers of many stripes. It wasn’t a particularly large group, but there was enough passion in that room to get any good revolution started.

And here we are some 20-years later.

It’s 1992. Organic and sustainable farming are both somewhat new concepts for the day, and if memory serves me the room was dominated by those who calling themselves organic. And so as the discussions ensued as to what the mission of this yet unnamed group would be, there was significant push-back from the folks who identified as organic – making a strong case that this new organization should not water down its message but rather make a simple and strong statement. This new organization would be an organic organization, period.

I remember that day vividly.

At the time we were striving for legitimacy; for a voice within the broader and not too receptive agricultural community.  But there were a few voices that day that argued strongly that this new organization should be broad based. It should reach out to conventional farmers; to the scientists schooled in higher input chemical intensive agriculture; to the politicians and policy makers…and to consumers. From the perspective of 24 years, this approach was obviously a smart one. And to the credit of everyone in that room, I believe the vote was nearly unanimous, to make what became PASA, a broad based, big tent organization, that today is the largest state-wide member based sustainable farming organization in the United States.

I will say probably over the years I’ve probably taken PASA for granted.  And it was just putting this little talk together that I re-read some things and it was the mission statement.  And this is true, when I read the PASA mission statement I get goose bumps. And here’s why. “We seek to improve the economic viability, the environmental soundness and social responsibility of food and farming systems in Pennsylvania, and across the country. We place great value on efforts to build bridges between broadly diverse participants in the agricultural industry and beyond, from farm to fork.

The ‘we’ – that’s all of us. That’s you. That’s me. That’s everybody gathered in this room. We believe we have the power, the passion, and the firm commitment to take on a challenge as big as this.

And as PASA marches toward its Silver Anniversary, all of us here can feel a real measure of success, that for the past 24 years, PASA has been true to its mission. Big tents always keep more people together dry and warm, than little tents. And while it takes an openness of spirit to see another’s viewpoint, as in the case of our own country, there is great strength in diversity. And I for one, am exceedingly proud of the fact that PASA, is today, Pennsylvania’s strongest and most respected voice, both inside and outside of the agricultural community. Reaching out to everyone who has a stake in maintaining ‘profitable farms that produce healthy food for all people while respecting the natural environment.’

Thank you.

Tom Beddard, Lady Moon Farms
PASA Conference Opening Keynote Sponsor

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