At its recent annual Farming for the Future conference, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) marked its 25th anniversary with the founding of the SOIL Institute. The acronym stands for Strategic Outreach for Innovation and Leadership, and the SOIL Institute will advance the dual goals of regenerating our soil resources and building a community of agricultural leaders and innovators to face the challenges of the future.

PASA plans to raise $3M for the initial 5-year implementation of its Institute over the coming year. Centre County farmer and PASA Board Chair Scott Case note, “we are well on our way, having raised over $1.5M to date.” He added, “The cornerstone of our funding strategy is to identify a wide range of investors who have a deep interest in seeing these new programs succeed. We believe not only the future of farming, but the health of our society is at stake!”

“We are proud to announce that, following the unveiling of the SOIL Institute at our recent conference, PASA received an anonymous $250,000 investment toward the project, presented as a challenge match to the organization,” said Brian Snyder, executive director of PASA.

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With full implementation over five years, the SOIL Institute is anticipated to generate: 100 trained and accredited sustainable farmers, 300 new or transitioning sustainable farms, 2,500 farmers participating in Farmer-to-Farmer Exchange networks, and $150 million of new capital investment in sustainable farming and food systems.

PASA will pursue these targets through the development of Sustainability Hubs that are designed to maintain consistent quality of programs while adapting them to conditions of the various bioregions and communities being served. The three major program elements that will take place at each Hub are Farmer Training and Development, Farmer-to-Farmer Exchange, and Farm-Based Research. Each element will complement and enhance the others in a systematic process whereby the successful output of each will provide input and strength to the next – in an evolving and cyclical fashion. According to PASA’s Director of Educational Programs Franklin Egan, “Knowledge gained from research activities will be woven back into the training, shared through the network of farmers, and so on. The aim of the program will be to maximize the participation of an extremely diverse group of farmers who will ultimately become mutually supportive and committed to the success of other farmers just as well.”

Sustainability Hubs will have central offices, but no specific geographic boundaries. The Hubs’ reach will be defined by their participants – serving as mentors, farming apprentices, research and field education hosts, and ultimately partners in shaping the program. PASA will open its Delaware Valley Hub in Kimberton, PA and its Three Rivers Hub in Gibsonia, PA on March 7th. A third Chesapeake Hub will be located in south-central Pennsylvania and is scheduled to open this fall.