A collage of a loan pasture tree against a blue sky, looking over a golden crop field with the text "Boots in the Dirt: RIPE on the Ground in PA June 2024" overlain on top.

Boots in the Dirt: RIPE On the Ground in Pennsylvania

Farm tours & conservation conversations

Here at RIPE, we prioritize having conversations with producers, trade associations, commodity groups, conservationists and policymakers to maximize our impact and ensure our work is as timely and relevant as possible. Our coalition, made up of members of our Board of Directors, Farmer Advisory Network, Steering Committee, and Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) Committee,  is key in informing our work and making sure we are considerate of operations of all shape and size representing all commodity types. This is a crucial time for RIPE being that it’s an election year and a Farm Bill year, so we’re wasting no time getting our boots in the dirt and sharing RIPE’s mission on the ground.

June was a busy time for us – in addition to RIPE Executive Director Trey Cooke’s trip to Wisconsin with Field to Market, Cooke and RIPE Communications Manager Melissa Willhouse also hit the ground in Pennsylvania for a packed couple of days. It was a great opportunity to meet with producers in the region and with conservation organizations alike to understand the unique challenges and opportunities for the producer in the Lancaster & Chester Counties region of Pennsylvania. What’s more, Cooke and Willhouse got to tour Beam Farms, a multi-generational family operation run by RIPE President Bill Beam (read more about RIPE’s Board of Directors).

The trip began at Beam Farms,  a 4,000 acre operation nestled in Elverson, PA. Elverson is a locale rich in nature and history, bordering French Creek State Park and located a few miles south of the Daniel Boone Homestead. Farming represents the backbone of Pennsylvania’s heritage – with 52,000 farms across 7.3 million acres of farmland, commercial agriculture has been an important economic endeavor since the state’s settlement in 1682. Prior to this, the land was cherished and worked by the Lenape and Monongahela Native American peoples. It goes without saying that agriculture is central to Pennsylvania’s economy and its cultural heritage. Lancaster and Chester Counties are part of the larger Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which is why conservation in agricultural production in this region is vital for the environment as well.

Beam Farms practices sustainability in agriculture using a variety of methods, particularly no-till and reduced-till. It utilizes precision agriculture to reduce waste, maximize efficiency and record data to understand environmental benefits and identify opportunities for improvement. What’s more, Beam Farms includes a sawdust trucking business that serves customers and producers of sawdust within a 150 mile radius of the farm – this operation allows sawdust to be repurposed and reused in a variety of ways. This leg of the trip, guided by Bill Beam, was a great chance to connect with our organization’s President, tour his family farm, and learn about the history of the area as well as conservation challenges and opportunities.

Next, we traveled to PA capital city Harrisburg to meet with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s State Conservation Commission. The commission’s primary objective is to ensure the wise use of PA’s natural resources and to protect and restore the natural environment through the conservation of its soil, water and related resources. The Commission administers several state conservation programs including the Nutrient Management and Odor Management Program, the Dirt and Gravel Program (pollution prevention), Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP Tax Credit) Program and more. Staff also provides oversight and professional certification for nutrient management specialists, odor management specialist and manure hauler and brokers. We share many common goals and interests, though the State Conservation Commission focuses on Pennsylvania while RIPE works to create solutions for producers nationwide. This meeting provided RIPE with some unique insights about the plight of the Pennsylvania producer and the environmental challenges that the state faces, as well as the overlap between these environmental challenges and agricultural production.

We ended the day with a casual meeting with a key player in the United States meat production industry. This individual expressed their interest in RIPE and the potential for collaboration in the near future. More details to follow…

A collage of pictures from Day One of RIPE's June 2024 trip to Pennsylvania; pictures include Melissa Willhouse with Bill Beam, Bill Beam and Trey Cooke in conversation, a crop field, and RIPE Staff outside the building housing the PA Dept of Agriculture.

The next day, PennAg Industries Association graciously allowed us to attend their Board of Directors meeting, and gave RIPE a platform to share our mission and priorities. Their Board of Directors is composed of producers and related agricultural professionals and stakeholders, so this was a wonderful opportunity for RIPE to share our principles and priorities in front of people who may be directly impacted by our work. PennAg’s mission is to inform, educate and advocate for industry so agribusiness can grow and prosper. There is much alignment between PennAg’s goals and RIPE’s – namely to help the agricultural industry thrive. We welcome opportunities such as this to get the word out about who we are and what we do.

After spending some more time exploring Lancaster and Chester Counties and observing various production systems in the area, we visited Stroud Water Research Center in Avondale, meeting with some staff members and touring their beautiful facility. Stroud seeks to advance knowledge and stewardship of freshwater systems through global research, education, and watershed restoration. As most of the private land owned in the United States is agricultural land, Stroud’s work aligns neatly with RIPE’s as both organizations prioritize conservation and the preservation of one of our most valuable natural resources, water. What a treat it was to explore the property and learn from the experts about their impact thus far and plans to grow from here.

The last item on the itinerary put RIPE in the mix with Pennsylvania farmers, dairy producers, and members of the ag supply chain to get an update from Chairman G.T. Thompson on the Farm Bill in Lancaster County.  After the meeting, RIPE had an opportunity to have a brief conversation with the Chairman in private before adjourning for the evening.  RIPE prioritizes bipartisan efforts to  advance  policies that will benefit agricultural producers and communities, and we welcome the opportunity to speak with and learn from policymakers on both sides of the aisle.

A collage of pictures from RIPE's trip to PA in June 2024, including RIPE Staff at the PennAg Board Meeting, Fresh Homemade Root Beer, a sign at Stroud Water Research Center, and Stroud staff giving RIPE a tour.

Each of these meetings and conversations were productive and impactful for the RIPE team. After all, we ensure our work is as relevant and timely as possible through conversations with producers, conservation organizations, policymakers, trade associations, commodity groups and the like. We came away from our on-the-ground trip feeling inspired and with lots of great ideas to drive our mission forward. Shout out to the individuals and organizations who met with us, particularly RIPE President Bill Beam.

This jam-packed trip was just a taste of the exciting things to come for RIPE. Catch us joining Steering Committee member No-till on the Plains at the end of the month for their Dakotas Soil Health Bus Tour (co-sponsored by RIPE).

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