Ag Service Providers of Chester County – How They Can Help Your Farm or Business

On Wednesday, January 21, agriculture service providers that work to support and enhance the work of farmers in Chester County, met to talk about their programs of work for the year. Ever wonder what each provider can do for you? Here’s a summary that may help!

Ag Development Council is putting together a partner email that will go out monthly to let other service providers know what each are doing. They continue to produce the Chester County Farm Products Guide that is distributed to families in Chester County outlining where they can purchase local food and farm products. They also are producing features on farmers in Chester County to highlight the different types of farms and pathways to become farmers within the County.

Growing Roots Partners is a company owned and operated by Lisa ONeill and Donna Levitsky. The duo run 3 farmers markets – Eagleview, Downingtown, and Malvern – and community events supporting local food and community. Eagleview and Malvern currently have an ongoing winter market, however they were not able to find a location for an indoor market for Downingtown during the winter months. Their goal is to bring economic development to the communities they serve through the markets and events.

Penn State Extension continues to be a leading resource for best practices for farmers and ag business owners. The farm management team is producing online educational programs for borrowers of USDA Farm Service Agency loan funds (on-going education is a requirement of obtaining these funds). The direct marketing team will again be holding the Farmers’ Market Manager Conference in three locations this year (expanding from the 1 location for the past 3 years) and continues to hold other workshops to enhance farmers and retail markets across the Commonwealth.

Applied Bank is newer to the Chester County market, but does provide financing for agriculture businesses. They have financed poultry farms and mushroom farms in the region, and are looking to expand their ag portfolio further.

Chester County SCORE continues to offer free, 1:1 consulting services for entrepreneurs and business owners within Chester and Delaware Counties. They hold business training workshops for business plan development and other related topics, and are working with AgConnect to provide their services for farmers. A marketing workshop is in the works and will be held on March 6 at Sly Fox Brewery in Phoenixville.

USDA NRCS provides consulting and funding to implement best management practices on farms through funding at the federal level. Funding is currently available under the RCPP program, and they continue to work collaboratively with the Conservation District to support best management practices on Chester County farms.

Chester County Conservation District collaborates with USDA NRCS to provide consulting and funding to implement best management practices on farms through funding on the county level. They have one educator who works primarily with the mushroom industry, and they will have 2 job openings soon – one as a district engineer and one as a special projects manager who will work on outside-of-the-box types of projects. The are also hosting manure management workshops this spring in which farmers will learn to put together their own manure management plans to be in compliance with Act.

Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau is the advocacy group for farmers in Chester County. They also have ag education initiatives including the Mobile Ag Lab, where students participate in lessons on agriculture and food production, and their Food Wheel that they us to educate the public about their food and farming at festivals including Octorara Area High School’s OA-BEST (May 30, 2015 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the High School, details coming soon) and the Mushroom Festival.

Chris Alonzo is a mushroom grower from Pietro Industries, and talked to the group about the work the American Mushroom Institute is doing with OSHA through the OSHA Alliance program, which has significantly decreased the number of on-farm accidents in the industry by providing more communication and best practices in workplace safety.

Connie Nye of Sweet Water Education Events Training joined the group to talk about her outreach in schools where she provides programming on water education in the classrooms. She also is the author of a book on water education, Sweet Water Hunt, and discussed her program with the Northbrook Canoe Company.

AgConnect is connecting farmers and ag business owners with the resources they need to grow their business. This includes facilitating the Next Generation Farmer Loan Program and serving as a secondary lender for the state’s Small Business First and Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund programs. They often make referrals to Penn State Extension for best practices training for beginning farmers, and Chester County SCORE for help creating a business plan to obtain a loan for their business. They have grants to do workforce development with the mushroom industry through USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, a grant to expand agricultural economic development in Southeastern PA through the Department of Community and Economic Development’s Discovered in PA, Developed in PA program, and a contract to expand outreach to farms and ag businesses in Bucks County through the Bucks County Workforce Investment Board. Ashley Oddo reported that she would be reaching out to high school teachers to arrange student career showcases – field trips fro students to learn more about careers in agriculture. You can learn more about all of AgConnect’s programming at our website, www.agconnectpa.org.

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