Lehigh Valley’s new farmers
The Lehigh Valley is losing its ability to grow its own food. Farmland is being turned into housing and industrial developments. Since 1930, the Valley has lost 80 percent of its farms and 53 percent of its farmland, according to Buy Fresh Buy Local.
To increase the availability of local fresh foods, many more farms are needed, and with it, the people who are willing and trained to farm the land. That’s where The Seed Farm in Emmaus comes into the picture. It offers farmer training and agricultural business incubator programs that help to start and maintain new sustainable farms in the Lehigh Valley.
One of the graduates of The Seed Farm is Jason Slipp, a Senior Instructional Technologist at Lehigh University. He has had a longstanding interest in growing food and in the food system and received a second Masters degree in Environmental Policy Design at Lehigh University.
Jason participated in the nine-month program at The Seed Farm two years ago. In addition to his regular job, he did field work at The Seed Farm two half-days every week and a full, eight-hour day on Saturdays, plus class one night a week. To carve out the time, he used all his vacation time. All five students in the program, he says, did the training in addition to their regular jobs, and they all graduated.
In 2012, after finishing the program, Jason and his fiancée bought Spring Hill Farm, a 5-acre farm with 2.5 tillable acres near Coopersburg, PA. They grow vegetables on ¼-acre and micro-greens on a screened-in porch, which they sell through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
2014 is the first year of their CSA. For 16 weeks through September 26, the dozen members, mostly other staff members at Lehigh University, receive their weekly produce box. Jason delivers it on Mondays when he goes to work.
Jason wants to set the limit for the CSA at 25 members, and eventually donate one of the shares to a low-income family. In addition to farming, Jason sees other prospects for his farm. The buildings lend themselves to a commercially licensed kitchen where small growers can process their produce; farm-to-table dinners with a sliding price schedule to make them affordable for everyone; and work training to empower and teach people to grow their own food. “Certainly my long-term goal is to make a living with the farm,” Jason says, “but I also see myself in a social and economic role.”
It will take many more people like Jason to strengthen the local food economy. Yet everyone can contribute – by buying as much locally produced foods as possible, and thus increase the demand, which will encourage more people like Jason to venture into farming. There are eight producer-only farmers markets in the Lehigh Valley, the Bethlehem Farmers’ Market at Campus Square being one of them (check out my previous posts with market recipes).
Photo: Courtesy of Jason Slipp