Monthly Archives: October 2015

Making Connections: Attention Farmers and Food Entrepreneurs, this One’s for You!

Attention Farmers, Food Entrepreneurs

and Those Who Love Them!

Do You Want to Scale Up the Local Food Economy?

This Event is for You!

Food Policy Meeting Oct 29 2015 REV

Friends,

With the support of the newly formed Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council, RenewLV is hosting a FREE lunch/discussion from 12 to 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 29, at the Fowler Center on Bethlehem’s South Side, 511 East Third Street, 6th Floor and you’re invited!

This event, titled “Making Connections,” will present some compelling ideas on how to support food and beverage entrepreneurship and the ways that area farmers, food and beverage producers can scale up their businesses by understanding the perspectives of distributors and institutional buyers. The benefits of “going organic” (and the increased profits of doing so) also will be discussed.

This event has been especially designed for farmers and food producers.  So if this is you, please clear your calendar and plan to come!  

Supporting our region’s farmers and food producers is also important, so please come and help ensure the Lehigh Valley can develop a vibrant local food economy.

Many thanks to our sponsors — Samuel Adams, Brewing the American Dream and Wendy Landiak, owner of the beloved vegan Asian fusion restuarant, Shankara.

Space is limited.  To reserve your spot, register today!  http://ow.ly/RZOwJ

The event will unfold as follows:

Starting at noon we’ll hear from our panelists and then break into small group discussions at the tables, where you can network, share information and move “from ideas to actions.”

We will be asking the question: “As a Region, Are We Leaving Money on the Table?”

At least 8.4 million people live 90 miles east of the Lehigh Valley in New York City. Yet produce is transported right by us from communities as far west of us as California and as close as Lancaster County. This food is headed to what might be the most lucrative market in the country and we should be capitalizing on our proximity to it?

A friend of RenewLV’s, Jon Middleton, who works with a large food service company believes that $200 million of what his firm spends on food could be sourced locally.  Another friend of ours who runs an organic catering business claims that there aren’t enough organic products for her to buy, even though organic produce would garner a premium price for the farmers and producers.  How can the Lehigh Valley capitalize on these opportunities?

We will explore how to close gaps in the regional food system so that everyone makes more money and farmland is preserved.

Small table discussion groups will explore options that can help local food and beverage entrepreneurs and the farmers who support them make more money, in other words, “grow the local food economy.”  We believe that if we are smarter about growing our local food economy, then more farmers will keep their land in production thus improving profits and preserving farmland!

Panelists for “Making Connections”

jon middleton

Jon Middleton, director of culinary operations at Muhlenberg College Dining Services

Middleton, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has used local, seasonal, sustainable and natural ingredients in his restaurants since the late 1970’s. He now grows his own on his 13-acre farm in southeastern Pennsylvania. He is interested in increasing the use of locally grown food in large institutions and believes efforts to buy local from just one large institution could result in as much as $200 million kept in the region annually.

Food prepared by Middleton and his team from GrowLV is featured each year at the Seed Farm‘s Farm-to-Table dinner. GrowLV is a consortium of Sodexo culinary teams in the Lehigh Valley sourcing fresh, local, sustainable and seasonal ingredients.

Frank Baldassarre

Frank J. Baldassarre, owner Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters and Artisan Exchange West Chester LLC

Baldassarre has extensive entrepreneurial experience as an owner and principal in Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters and Artisan Exchange West Chester LLC. He brings more than 30 years of experience in the financial services sector, including executive level experience at a number of the regions’ banks. He possesses extensive managerial, lending, accounting and regulatory knowledge that has been instrumental in the success of both projects.Golden Valley is a family-owned and operated artisan coffee roaster in West Chester, Pa. They specialize in roasting a large variety of organic, shade-grown, bird-friendly, and fair trade coffees. Artisan Exchange offers small-scale dedicated manufacturing space to food entrepreneurs in a fully-equipped 27,000 square foot manufacturing and distribution center. The Exchange was a finalist for the PA Governor’s Small Business Impact Award this year.

Baldassarre is interested in bringing a similar turn-key operation to the Lehigh Valley.  This event presents a unique opportunity for you to connect with Frank, hear his ideas, and perhaps be one of the first to benefit from his interest in developing Lehigh Valley food manufacturing and distribution center.

Andrew Puglia

Andrew Puglia, procurement manager for the Farmer Outreach program at Common Market based in Philadelphia

Common Market is a mission-driven food distributor of local foods to the Mid-Atlantic region.  They work to build strong relationships with farmers and producers in our region to ensure that they procure the highest quality local farm food available. The Farmer Outreach team coordinates with farmers on crop planning based on customer’s needs and conducts annual audits of farmers’ growing practices.

Common Market connects wholesale customers to farmers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware by marketing and distributing good food to schools, hospitals, grocers and workplaces. They aggregate food in our warehouse from about 75 regional producers and deliver six days a week to almost 150 public and private schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, workplaces, grocery stores, nonprofits and faith institutions throughout the Delaware Valley.

Cynthia James, Rodale

Cynthia James, ASC Program Manager, Rodale Institute

Cynthia James from Rodale Institute will be available to answer questions about how farmers and gardeners can get organic certification.

Rodale Insitute’s hands-on programs are ideal for aspiring organic farmers and food-systems advocates. They provide experiential, skills-based education in organic farming. Students get a unique and comprehensive education by participating in all aspects of Rodale Institute’s diverse farm operation, learning from educators in the classroom and in the field alongside a team of experts.

We hope to see you on 10/29!

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Lehigh County Commissioners Pass Amendment to Fund Farmland Preservation!

Midnight

It was some time near midnight.  Everyone was beyond tired.  The proposal was presented by Percy Dougherty.  An interesting discussion ensued.  Different proposals were presented by different commissioners.  In the end, seven of the nine Lehigh County Commissioners voted for the Dougherty-Creighton amendment to the budget to fund $500,000 of unused Green Futures Fund money for farmland preservation conservation easements!

Thank you Percy Dougherty and Tom Creighton for this proposal.   This proves that elected officials can be strong supporters of farmland preservation and careful stewards of public money at the same time.  You are our “Farmland Preservation Super-Heroes.”

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The proposal that passed was the proposal RenewLV supported.  We consider this is a clear “win” for farmland preservation in the Lehigh Valley.

As presented, these funds will require a match from the local municipality where the farmland is located.  The local and county money will be pooled in order to leverage it to access state dollars.  This leveraging is projected to have the county leveraging its dollars four times.  FOUR TIMES.

But, for this to be supremely effective, local municipalities will need to mobilize money at the local level, the sooner the better.  The ones that are able to do this as early as possible will be the big winners in this program.  Providing local “skin in the game,” as Commissioner Percy Dougherty called it, is the key in the lock to utilizing these funds.  In Northampton County, they have been doing farmland preservation this way for years.  I have spoken to local municipal leaders who are extremely proud that they direct EIT (Earned Income Tax) dollars to farmland preservation leveraging programs like this.  Now, there’s an opportunity for Lehigh County townships to be contributing in this same way.

Here’s how the voting went:

Sheller yes

Schware no

Mazziotti yes

Jones yes

Osborne yes

Holt no

Dougherty yes

Creighton yes

Brace yes

A special heart-felt thank you to ALL of the Lehigh County commissioners for your public service, (yes, even you “no” voters).  Truth be told, I felt a little guilty leaving council chambers after the vote at a little after mid-night, knowing that you were all slogging through budget amendments into the wee hours with no end in sight.  You have difficult decisions to make.  Sometimes holding public office is an endurance test.

Polls consistently show that Lehigh Valley residents value farmland preservation, but we need elected officials to help preserve it.  Agricultural preservation zoning at the local municipal level is an important tool in farmland preservation, but not permanent.  Conservation easements are “farmland forever,” or nearly so, which is why county programs like this are critical.

Deep, deep gratitude to those seven commissioners who supported this proposal. Thank you!  Even deeper gratitude to the amazing RenewLV board members Julie Thomases and Lower Macungie Township Commissioner Ron Beitler for their editorial in yesterday’s Morning Call, their presentations last night, and for being tireless advocates for farmland preservation.  A special shout out to citizens who showed up and spoke up (Vicky Bastidas, Mike Siegal (sp?)) even those who didn’t go the distance.

Future generations of Lehigh Valley residents will be able to access food, start food-based businesses and breathe clean air (at least in some parts of Lehigh County) because of your good work.  Farmland preservation is economic development.  Thank you to the entire RenewLV board for your support of this initiative.  A big high five all around!  You are all my farmland preservation super-heroes!

Help Needed: Important Farmland Preservation Vote Before Lehigh County Commissioners on Wednesday

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Important Farmland Preservation Vote Before Lehigh County Commissioners on Wednesday

by Julie Thomases and Ron Beitler, RenewLV Board Members

An important vote is coming before Lehigh County Commissioners on Wednesday Oct. 14 regarding the funding of farmland preservation.  Lehigh County Commissioner Percy Dougherty ( R ), representing District 2 that includes Lower Macungie and Upper Macungie Townships, Macungie and Alburtis, has proposed an amendment to the 2016 budget to allocate $500,000 to a municipal match farmland preservation program.  On Wednesday, October 14th, the Lehigh County Commissioners will vote on this proposal.  We need you to contact Lehigh County commissioners whom you know and let them know of your support of farmland preservation and this proposal.  Also, please attend the meeting on Wed. evening at 7:30 p.m. at the Lehigh County Government Center.

If approved, these funds together with state matching funds, will allow the Country to leverage its $500,000 into more than $2,000,000 for farmland preservation through the purchase of conservation easements.  Additionally, townships, townships would be able to participate by leveraging their contributions for a 50% to 130% return.

This proposal and its matching feature is modeled after Northampton’s successful municipal farmland preservation partnership program.

Why is this vote so important? According to the Assessment Report: Lehigh Valley Food Economy, “The biggest challenge facing the Lehigh Valley’s local food economy is the loss of farmland to development.”  According to the Census of Agriculture, between 2002 and 2012 the Lehigh and Northampton counties lost 26,785 acres of farmland to development.  Lehigh County alone lost 14,973 acres.  Additionally, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission in their Profile and Trends report from 2014 projects growth of 146,000 people in the next 20 years, a 22% increase, creating even more pressure to develop farmland. The farms, farmers, and the local food economy are at risk of being destroyed by development.

Living in Pennsylvania, the stories about California’s record drought and the plight of their farmers seem far away,   But what happens there affects us here.  A significant percentage of the food we eat in the Lehigh Valley comes from California.  With California struggling with a massive water crisis, it’s time for the Lehigh Valley to take an important look at farmland preservation – for a very practical reason – it is critical for us to source more of our food closer to home.

The Assessment Report also highlights opportunities for the Lehigh Valley.  “The local food economy generates $17 million in economic activity for the Lehigh Valley annually and has the potential to contribute much more.  If residents spent just $10/week on locally grown food, nearly $100 million in economic activity would be generated annually, providing jobs, business incubation and expansion, and economic growth for our local farms, businesses and service providers,” (page 1).
The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has a goal of preserving approximately 25% of the land in Lehigh and Northampton County for agriculture.   In Lehigh County, 25% equals 55,743 acres.   34,328 acres have already been saved.  With current funding levels it won’t happen.  In Lehigh County, approximately 375 acres are currently being preserved per year versus between 1000 and 1,500 acres per year being developed.   In order to meet LVPC’s 25% goal we need funding increases now.
This is how preservation funding works:  The preservation of farmland is accomplished through the purchase of agricultural easements (also known as purchase of development rights) on eligible Lehigh County farm properties.  The state matches every local dollar.  For example, in 2015 Lehigh County allocated $250,000 to farmland preservation.  Subsequently, Lehigh County received a match from the state of $1, 250,000, allowing for a total of $1,509,090 to be directed toward preserving approximately 375 acres of farmland.

Although this is a move in the right direction, with the present rate of development, if we expect to reach the Lehigh Valley Planning Commissions regional goal of preserving 25% of land for agriculture as stated in the region’s comprehensive plan, we must ramp up direct funding for farmland preservation.

We think this is a smart way to do it…leveraging state dollars with county and local dollars.

We may not be facing a crisis on the scale of California’s drought.  But unlike a drought, the threats to our local farmland are things we have the power to control.  Let’s ensure that the Lehigh Valley is as food self-sufficient as possible.

Farmland Preservation is important to RenewLV; it is one of our four initiatives.  We will be keeping a farmland preservation candidate scorecard which we will distribute before the election.  But, it’s not only important to us but the entire region.  Farmland Preservation is an important driver of farm and food-based businesses and economic development.

The Lehigh County commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Public Hearing Room of the Lehigh County Government Center, 17 South Seventh Street, Allentown, PA,

Parking is available in the Walnut and Church Streets Lot.  See you there!

As a Region, Are We Leaving Money on the Table?

Food Policy Meeting Oct 29 2015 REV 

As a Region, Are We Leaving Money on the Table?

At least 8.4 million people live 90 miles east of the Lehigh Valley in New York City. Yet produce is transported right by us from communities as far west of us as California and as close as Lancaster County. This food is headed to what might be the most lucrative market in the country and we should be capitalizing on our proximity to it.  A friend of RenewLV who works with a large food service company, believes that $200 million of what his firm spends on food could be sourced locally.  Another friend of ours who runs an organic catering business claims that there isn’t enough organic product for her to buy, even though organic produce would garner a premium price for the farmers or producers.

How can we fill the gaps in the regional food system so that producers make more money and farmland is preserved?

We would like to help local food and beverage entrepreneurs and the farmers who support them make more money, in other words, “grow the local food economy.”  We believe that if we are smarter about growing our local food economy, then more farmers will improve profits and keep their land in production, thus preserving farmland!

Join us for a lunch/discussion from noon to 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 29th. The event is titled “Making Connections.” We’ll be delving into another facet of supporting food and beverage entrepreneurship and the ways that area farmers, food and beverage entrepreneurs and local producers can scale up their businesses by understanding the perspectives of distributors and institutional buyers.

This event has been especially designed for farmers and food producers.  So if this is you, please clear your calendar and plan to come!  There is no cost to attend, thanks to the sponsorship of Samuel Adams, Brewing the American Dream.  Space is limited, so reserve your spot early!

We hope to see you at noon the Fowler Center on Bethlehem’s South Side, 511 East Third Street, 6th Floor. Scroll down for more information about the luncheon.

Meet the Panelists for “Making Connections”

Jon Middleton, director of culinary operations at Muhlenberg College Dining Services

Middleton, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has used local, seasonal, sustainable and natural ingredients in his restaurants since the late 1970’s. He now grows his own on his 13 acre farm in southeastern Pennsylvania. He is interested in increasing the use of locally grown food in large institutions.

Food prepared by Middleton and his team, GrowLV, will be featured at the The Seed Farm’s 5th annual Farm-to-Table Dinner and Auction, Sunday, Oct. 11 from 5 to 8 p.m. which supports the Seed Farm‘s programs to “grow new farmers.” Grow LV is a consortium of Sodexo culinary teams in the Lehigh Valley sourcing fresh, local, sustainable and seasonal ingredients.

Frank J. Baldassarre, owner Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters and Artisan Exchange West Chester LLC

Baldassarre has extensive entrepreneurial experience as an owner and principal in Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters and Artisan Exchange West Chester LLC. He brings more than 30 years of experience in the financial services sector, including executive level experience at a number of the regions’ banks. He possesses extensive managerial, lending, accounting and regulatory knowledge that has been instrumental in the success of both projects.

Golden Valley is a family-owned and operated artisan coffee roaster in West Chester, Pa. They specialize in roasting a large variety of organic, shade-grown, bird-friendly, and fair trade coffees.

Artisan Exchange, which operates out of the same building as Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters, offers small-scale dedicated manufacturing space to food entrepreneurs in a fully-equipped 27,000 square foot manufacturing and distribution center. The Exchange was a finalist for the PA Governor’s Small Business Impact Award this year. Baldassarre is interested in bringing a similar turn-key operation to the Lehigh Valley, so if you are a small-scale prepared food business operator — or want to be — and need legal prep space you will want to come to the event to meet Frank.

Andrew Puglia, procurement manager for the Farmer Outreach program at Common Market based in Philadelphia

Common Market works to build strong relationships with farmers and producers in our region to ensure that they procure the highest quality local farm food available. The Farmer Outreach team coordinates with farmers on crop planning based on customer’s needs and conducts annual audits of our farmers’ growing practices.

Common Market connects wholesale customers to farmers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware by marketing and distributing good food to schools, hospitals, grocers and workplaces. They aggregate food in our warehouse from about 75 regional producers and deliver six days a week to almost 150 public and private schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, workplaces, grocery stores, nonprofits and faith institutions throughout the Delaware Valley.

Cynthia James, Rodale Institute – Training a new generation of organic farmers

Cynthia, from Rodale Institute, will be available to answer questions about how farmers, even small-scale hobby farmers, can get organic certification.  Come hear how they are available to hold your hand through the organic certification process.

Cynthia James is the Program Manager for the Agriculture Supported Communities (ASC) Program at the Rodale Institute.

The Rodale Institute is a 501 c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people and the planet through organic leadership, specifically through research and education programming.  Started by J.I. Rodale in 1947, the Rodale Institute is considered the birthplace of organic agriculture in this country.

Additionally, Rodale Institute’s hands-on educational programs are ideal for aspiring organic farmers and food-systems advocates. They provide experiential, skills-based education in organic farming. Students get a unique and comprehensive education by participating in all aspects of Rodale Institute’s diverse farm operation, learning from educators in the classroom and in the field alongside our team of experts.

RenewLV has a Farmland Preservation Committee, a Food Sustainability Committee and a Smart Transportation Committee. If you’d like to support our efforts, please reach out to us at smartgrowth@renewlv.org.  We also work on food issues together with our food policy partners under the larger umbrella of the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council.  If you’d like to support these efforts, please let us know. 

Renew Lehigh Valley is a non-profit organization committed to promoting smart growth and smart governance in order to revitalize our core communities, preserve open space, and establish an economically and environmentally sustainable foundation for our region’s future growth.

If you have attended one of our events and appreciate the work we do,  please support RenewLV financially with a donation by clicking here for online donations, or send a check to RenewLV at 1337 East Fifth Street, Bethlehem, PA 18015.  In order to continue to engage the public in our important work, we need your help.

Thank you for your interest and involvement in our cause.  I’m looking forward to continuing to work together with you to be a catalyst for action!

We maintain social media to keep you informed of the latest opportunities and issues related to our work. We invite you to connect with RenewLV through:

A copy of the official registration and financial information for Renew Lehigh Valley may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling, toll-free within Pennsylvania 1-800-732-0999.  Registration does not imply endorsement.

Is Passenger Rail to Eastern PA Dead or Alive?

Passenger Rail Forum

Friends,

Today I received a notice from April Niver the economic development coordinator from Congressman Cartwright’s office inviting me and others to a forum with PA Secretary of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration’s Acting Administrator next Tuesday.  The topic?  Commuter Rail.

“Hmmm,” I thought. Just last week I heard that someone in a leadership position in the region had declared passenger rail dead in the Lehigh Valley.  Yet, the mayors of the cities periodically come out and support it.  So what is it…dead or alive?

Apparently, alive.   And, if the Poconos are exploring this idea, doesn’t it make sense that the Lehigh Valley actively be exploring it, too?  Commuter rail could be an economic driver to the region, supporting investment in our cities and boroughs.  It’s Smart Growth.

Forum On Bringing Commuter Rail Service to Northeastern Pennsylvania via the New Jersey Transit System

Tuesday, October 13, from 1:00 – 3:15 p.m.

The Horizon  Ballroom at the Inn at Pocono Manor

1 Manor Drive (off of Route 314), Pocono Manor, PA 18349

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Transportation, the Honorable Leslie Richards; the Federal Transit Administration’s Acting Administrator, the Honorable Therese McMillan; and representatives from New Jersey Transit will be on hand to listen to community leaders and commuter rail advocates from Monroe County and surrounding northeastern Pennsylvania make the case for extending commuter rail service to Monroe County, connecting northeastern Pennsylvania with the New Jersey rail transit system.

The public is invited to view the proceedings, which begin at 2:00 p.m. and run until 3:13 p.m.  The Horizon Ballroom will feature a 150-seat audience section.

There will be a reception prior to the formal presentations from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m., also in the Horizon Ballroom.

On the docket is a long-standing proposal to extend the western end of NJ Transit’s Morristown/Montclair-Boonton commuter line by way of the 28-mile stretch of existing rail track bed known as the Lackawanna Cut-Off.  In the early part of the 20th century, the Delaware Lackawanna and Western Railroad constructed a level-graded route from Roxbury, NJ to just over the Delaware River in order to serve as a faster, more direct route between existing rail lines in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  The Lackawanna Cut-Off, as it became known, was unfortunately abandoned in the 1970s, and 28 miles of track were removed.

Over the last couple of decades, however, as commuter traffic from northeastern Pennsylvania to northern New Jersey has increased, leaders in northeastern Pennsylvania have worked on a commuter/passenger rail service restoration initiative.  Each day, tens of thousands of people commute east from Monroe and surrounding counties over congested Pennsylvania and New Jersey highways, and this will only grow worse with the widening of the Panama Canal, population growth in northeastern Pennsylvania, and increases in population and job opportunities in New Jersey and New York.  With the simultaneous increases in truck traffic that the Interstate 80 areas will inevitably face as a major trucking corridor, an investment in re-completing the former passenger rail line as a commuter route could represent an effective way for both Pennsylvania and New Jersey to meet their surface transportation needs.

Parties interested in this topic are encouraged to attend the 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. reception and to view the 2:00 – 3:15 p.m. presentations on October 13.

If you plan on attending, space is limited, so reach out to April Niver at april.niver@mail.house.gov and let her know you’ll be there, or call her at 484-546-0776.

RenewLV has a Smart Transportation Committee that is supportive of transportation choice, of us getting around on foot, in a wheelchair, by bike, by bus, by car, by light rail between our cities and by passenger rail.  If you’d like to support our efforts, please reach out to me.