Reflections: Pasa’s Winter Conference

Conference attendees pose for a photo at Pasa’s 2023 Sustainable Agriculture Conference. Credit: Dani Fresh for Pasa Sustainable Agriculture

As an OpenTEAM Fellow based at Pasa Sustainable Agriculture I had the opportunity to experience Pasa’s annual winter conference. The origins of the organization lead back to Pasa’s very first conference in 1992, started and organized by farmers who were looking to share learnings and explore sustainable agriculture together. Today, the conference continues to be a time for farmers to reunite year after year and to meet new faces, gathering in the spirit of sharing, listening, and learning. The relationships the Pasa community stewards all year long come alive during the conference. You can’t help but feel the deep sense of community, the buzz of mutual admiration, curiosity, and hope continuing to weave a tapestry each year, telling the story of Pasa. While this group spends three days in sessions on a variety of topics, it is clear when they are not indoors at the conference, they are taking these learnings and inspiration as fuel to keep moving closer to the shared vision of “a world where agriculture nourishes, heals, and empowers.”

Prior to the official conference kick off, Pasa’s long standing Soil Health Benchmark Study research team and partner organizations Future Harvest and Maine Farmland Trust held a gathering for farmer research collaborators to connect and discuss their annual soil test results. They heard from Cornell Soil Health Lab about how to read their annual soil test lab results and listened to the stories of diversified vegetable, row crop & grain, and pastured livestock research participants about their operations and how the study has helped to improve their soil health over the years. The gathering also facilitated farmer to farmer learning circles. Young farmers seeking the sage advice of established producers, older farmers proudly sharing their story as humble stewards of the land improving their soil one season at a time. Be it vegetables, row crops, or pasture a key theme for building soil health was planting a diversity of crops to capture as much sunlight as possible to feed the soil carbon cycle.

Beginning the conference alongside the keen curiosity of the soil health study’s farmer participants set the tone for an engaging few days. As an OpenTEAM Fellow, the conference was an incredible opportunity to support Pasa’s team, partners, farmers, and food system professionals in sharing stories and knowledge. The sessions throughout the conference provided fodder for exploration. High Mowing Organic Seeds spoke about the vital need for farmer feedback to build regional resilience by developing seed varieties that thrive amidst increasing climate challenges and the opportunity for farmers to diversify their income through producing seeds. Different sessions covered the value and importance of digital tools and data collection, be it to advance equitable access to nutritional food at farmer’s markets and farm stands, revitalizing a local fibershed, advancing research on biodiversity, or tracking farm management practices to increase soil health as we often talk about at OpenTEAM. 

The highlight of the conference was the simple act of being together with Pasa staff, Pasa community farmers, and bonding with colleagues from Our Sci, Wolfe’s Neck Center, and OpenTEAM. This community is filled with individuals who are early adopters, change seekers, and innovative thinkers. There’s a deep sense of optimism for the future. Everyone here is opting in to make this wild world we inhabit with one another and all the other species not just a better place but one in which all thrive. Coming together is a reminder that this vision we are all working towards is slowly becoming a reality as we continue to show up for one another. 
The OpenTEAM Fellows Program operates with significant support from a $730,000 grant by the Walmart Foundation.

Connecting Farmers to Digital Tools

Jeanne Lurvey, OpenTEAM Fellow at Pasa, shares highlights of her work!

Jeanne Lurvey is an OpenTEAM Fellow based at Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, a Pennsylvania-based sustainable agriculture association with a network of more than 5,000 farmers representing every production and scale with a united goal of advancing regenerative and equitable agriculture at home and in their communities.

Since joining the OpenTEAM community and participating in the pilot year of the Fellows Program, Pasa has been working to expand farmer’s use and awareness of OpenTEAM tools including SurveyStack, farmOS, the Farmer’s Coffeeshop, and Hylo through the Soil Health Benchmarking Study (SHBS). Jeanne, alongside Pasa’s Lead Research Coordinator Sarah Bay Nawa, is spearheading this work!

In 2020, Pasa started using SurveyStack as one method for collecting farm management data for the SHBS. Jeanne has been working to increase the number of farms using SurveyStack through online tutorials, farm visits, SurveyStack’s ‘request for submissions’ feature, email communications, and phone calls to farmers. Through these outreach efforts, Pasa has engaged farmers to use SurveyStack for the first time. ​

Beyond farm record data entry, Pasa is incorporating OpenTEAM digital tools into multiple touchpoints with farmers participating in the SHBS. Pasa’s emails, Farmers SHBS Resource Webpage, and farm visit literature all include SurveyStack as the preferred method for research data collection and a description of the different OpenTEAM tools available.

As a part of her work with the SHBS, Jeanne went out into the field to visit farms to collect research data and to connect with farmers about digital tools.

“While visiting farms, I learned about farmers’ different record keeping tools, their use cases, and strong interest in peer to peer learning,” said Jeanne. In connecting with farmers, she shared OpenTEAM’s mission and her role as a Fellow in supporting farmer’s learnings and collecting their feedback to help inform the digital tools in OpenTEAM’s ecosystem.

Pasa has also been collaborating with developers to prepare the Farmer’s Coffeeshop for piloting in 2023. The Farmer’s Coffeeshop is a visual benchmarking and social networking tool designed to support strategic decision-making on farms, encourage knowledge sharing, and improve the information cycle. 

Jeanne continues to engage in the OpenTEAM community, participate in working groups, join co-working sessions, produce presentations, and share feedback. As she poses questions to developers and shares ideas and feedback for the different digital tools, she builds relationships with developers and meets with other hubs to learn about how they are using tools for their research projects. Taking some of what she has learned, Jeanne put together a farmer panel that spoke to the different digital record keeping tools farmers use for their operation, fostering conversation and learning around the benefits of using digital tools and the value in farmer’s collecting their farm data.

As Jeanne reflects on her Fellows program experience thus far, she found that, “Partaking in different opportunities to learn from the OpenTEAM community has enriched my understanding of the interoperability of the tools and the strong vision and dedication the group has to supporting farmers and regenerative agriculture.”

The OpenTEAM Fellows Program operates with significant support from a $730,000 grant by the Walmart Foundation.