It’s our 10th Anniversary!
Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since that first meeting with PASA in the fall of 2007 to establish a BFBL chapter in the Lehigh Valley! I thought I’d take a moment to reflect back on what we’ve all accomplished over this past decade.
Back in 2008, we began with just 6 partners: 5 farmers (Eagle Point, Flint Hill, Keepsake, Sunrise Sunflower, and Suyundalla) and 1 farmers market (Easton).
This year, we had 130 partners: 69 farms, 7 vineyards, 14 farmers markets, 7 retail operations, 10 specialty foods, 14 restaurants, 8 institutions, and 1 distributor. Together, we’ve created a strong network of partners working to promote our local food economy!
Our primary focus has always been on educating consumers about the many benefits of choosing locally grown foods. We’ve reached out to the public with e-newsletters, videos, social media, movie nights, food forums, cooking & canning demos, and local food challenges. We’ve tabled at numerous events over the years, providing educational materials. And we’ve given presentations to college, secondary, and elementary school students, local governments, community organizations, Girl Scout troops, and at local businesses, libraries, health fairs, and other events.
Our Farm-to-School efforts began in 2010, with our CSA in the Classroom program presented to 35 classrooms in the Easton Area School District. We have expanded to Bethlehem and Allentown, and the program evolved to become a Harvest of the Month presentation. Through these programs, many kids are learning about where their food comes from.
In 2008, we hosted our first “Taste of the Lehigh Valley” at Melt restaurant to let the public taste just how good locally grown food really is. We had 5 restaurants, 2 farmers, and a local distillery offering samples to the 220 attendees. Over the years, we held the event 5 more times, twice more at Melt, at Lutron, at Allentown BrewWorks, and then at ArtsQuest last year. This popular event grew to include a Valley-wide producer-only farmers’ market with 37 vendors, 31 educational displays and games that informed about all aspects of our local food system, live music, two food films, three cooking demonstrations, three workshops, and multiple children’s activities. And the Tasting Room featured 24 restaurants, wineries, breweries, and distilleries that offered samples made with local ingredients. More than 2,000 people attended!
Along with educating consumers about why they should buy local, we’ve also been letting them know where and when they can find these products.
We initially used the PASA website BuyLocalPA and encouraged our local farms and businesses to create listings there. In 2011, we created our own website, then updated it in 2016 with a Local Food Finder that allows people to search for specific locally grown items. In the past year, the site has received 16,000 unique visitors who viewed an average of 2.58 pages and remained on the site for 2:20 minutes. Of the more than 60,000 page views, 30% were there to use the Local Food Finder.
Our Local Foods Guide has been published biannually since 2009. This resource grew to an 84-page booklet, and 30,000 copies of each edition have been distributed since 2013. We also supplement it in the off-years with farmers market maps and farm-to-table rack cards.
We’ve created several products with the BFBLGLV logo to help consumers identify places where local foods can be purchased: banners, flags, posters, POP materials, bumper stickers, window clings, and road signs.
And to help consumers understand when they can purchase local foods, we created a Lehigh Valley-specific Harvest Calendar.
Over the years, we’ve conducted research into several issues affecting the Lehigh Valley’s local food economy:
- Partnered with three local colleges to conduct economic research on the supply and demand of local food in the Lehigh Valley (2009)
- Price Comparisons of Food at Lehigh Valley Farmers Markets vs. Grocery Stores (2012)
- Local Food Economy Assessment Report (2013)
- Fresh Food Access Plan (2014) – Incorporated into LV Planning Commission report 1LV
- Partnered with Penn State to determine the economic multiplier for local food in the Lehigh Valley (2012)
- Institutional Wholesale Markets for Local Produce in the Greater Lehigh Valley (2014)
Improving Food Access:
We began working to improve fresh food access in 2009 by implementing an EBT program at the Easton Farmers Market. Our work expanded as we helped local farmers register with the USDA to accept SNAP benefits and set up new venues (farm stands and farm shares) to provide fresh produce in low income neighborhoods in the Lehigh Valley. In 2015, a USDA FINI grant allowed us to create a Double SNAP program at 15 sites in Northampton County. A new FINI grant this year is allowing the program to expand to Lehigh County as well.
Workshops, Wholesale, and More:
We have a diverse group of partners, which has led to a variety of activities.
We’ve presented workshops to help our farmers acquire new information and help grow their businesses:
- Marketing for Farmers
- How to Use FB
- Growing for Wholesale (partnered with Penn State Extension)
- Organic Vegetable Intensive (partnered with Penn State Extension)
- Scaling Up – Food Safety, Post-Harvest Handling, Equipment and Efficiencies to Meet a Growing Market for Farm to Institutional Sales(partnered with Penn State Extension & The Seed Farm)
- Wholesale Success (partnered with Family Farmed, Penn State Extension, & GEDP
In order to increase wholesale purchases of locally grown foods, we established a wholesale directory (now part of the BuyLocalGLV website), conducted an online food hub pilot project, and held two Local Grower Local Buyer events. We also worked directly with chefs to create connections with local farmers.
We’ve worked closely with St. Luke’s Hospital to help them establish CSA employee programs at each of their eight campuses.
And we brought farmers market managers together for round table discussions at the end of each year to review the season and discuss how BFBLGLV could assist them with promotions.
BFBLGLV is a Founding Member of the LV Food Policy Council. We acted as convener of the 5 committees in the Thriving Food System Section until 2016, chaired the F2S Committee, and now Allison chairs the Food Policy Council itself.
So Much Support:
All of this work has been possible because of the support of many different players. We are very fortunate to have the Nurture Nature Center as our parent. Not only do they provide us with office space and administrative support, but the wonderful staff and board encourage us and help promote our work. We feel very lucky to have them with us.
Of course, we wouldn’t have been able to do much if it hadn’t been for the financial support from the private sector (sponsorships), foundations, and all levels of government (federal, PA, and Northampton County grants).
We’ve been lucky to have had many, many talented people assisting with these efforts over the years, from board members and volunteers to incredible staff members (Amy Huffaker, Rachel VanDuzer, Kat Eutsler, Laura Schmidt, Hanna Kane, Lindsey Parks, Trudy Siak, Erica Reisman, Brooke Kohler, Lorraine Torella, and Allison Czapp). We’ve also had the support of many organizations, particularly from Tianna Dupont and Brian Moyer at Penn State Extension.
So it is with heartfelt gratitude that I thank you all for this decade of working together to improve the Lehigh Valley local food economy. I feel that we have really made a difference! And I have so enjoyed getting to know you all and discover the wonderful foods that you provide!
It is now time for me to move on to other ventures, but I leave you in the capable hands of Allison Czapp, who will be taking over as Director of BFBLGLV beginning next week. I look forward to seeing what the next decade will bring!
With much appreciation,