Sustainable agriculture and forestry demonstration project

Final Report for ONE03-010

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2003: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $22,555.50
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Kimberlee Moninger
Sustaining Greene County
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Project Information

Summary:
Agriculture as Economic Development

This project was undertaken in an attempt to show residents and elected officals in Greene County PA that agriculture can and does play an important role in the economic life of our community.

Sustaining Greene County (SGC) initiated sustainable agricultural and forestry practices on a long abandoned farm in an attempt to show that small farms operations could sustain both our families and tax base while not harming the environment.

Introduction:

Sustaining Greene County (SGC), a not for profit organization, recognizes the role that local farms and woodlots play in terms of environmental and economic benefits are often unheralded. Greene County has a rich tradition of agriculture and forestry operations, and these industries must be considered in any comprehensive economic development planning for the future of our communities. SGC is unique among local agencies working to support local economic development in its deliberate linking of economic development with sustainability.

For many years the coal mining industry has been a major factor in the local economy. While mining has provided many jobs it is an unsustainable industry expected to decline within 25 years. Already some local governing bodies and rural families are faced with the reality of a shrinking tax base. By focusing upon farm and wood lot resources, value added marketing, and outreach SGC envisions a multi-faceted approach to economic development in support of rural families and farm enterprises.

SGC seks to reclaim agriculture as a viable source of income for local family farms. Central to the effort is an agricultural demonstration project featuring poultry production and the establishment of a sustainable forestry demonstration project. Barriers to establishing a community kitchen will be explored, and an effective outreach program will be developed.

Project Objectives:

The poultry project will demonstrate effective production and marketing methods, as well as providing local farmers with information and expertise needed should they wish to start production on their own. Use of a shared or mobile processing unit will avoid unnecessary expenses as well as provide an opportunity to showcase the composting of poultry by-products.
Measurable results will include profit margin, consumer demand and reaction to product, assessment of the environmental impact of the project, and continued farmer interest.

The forestry management demonstration will establish an outdoor classroom for farmers, landowners, and students to gain first hand knowledge of differing methods of wood lot management. Measurable results will include creation of an outdoor classroom, assessment of environmental impact of differing management practices, adoptions of demonstrated practices by participants, and long term use of the demonstration woodlot.

Creation of a community kitchen could have a significant impact in terms of expanding farm profits and marketing opportunities. This portion of the project will identify barriers as well as potential users of a community kitchen. Measurable results include gaining access to data needed to determine need for and estimating costs of construction, and identification of possible participants and products.

An environmental education curriculum aimed at youth and adults will reinforce the importance of agriculture to the local economic planning and the environment. Measurable results will include developing a strong partnership with vo-ag and FFA programs, increase awareness of agriculture to local planners, development of partnerships with local grass roots and youth oriented organizations.

Research

Materials and methods:

SGC worked with representatives of Consol Energy to secure an adequate site for the project that accurately reflects the topography and soil types of much of Greene County. A long term lease was signed in September of 2003, and SGC began to reclaim a farm that had been out of production for over 20 years.

Free Range/Pastured Poultry Project

Approximately ten acres of the farm are remnants of meadows and pastures in the beginning or intermediate stages of succession back into woodland. These areas will be used to demonstrate free range and pastured poultry production, rotational grazing of livestock, properly installed agricultural crossing(s), and periodic stream water quality sampling. Small crop production will be incorporated as part of the poultry rotation in 2007-8.

Forestry Project

With the help of project consultants, the wooded area (56 acres) has been inventoried and evaluated and a comprehensive sustainable woodlot stewardship plan is being written. In its final form the plan will feature a minimum of five demonstration plots (minimum 1 acre each) which will showcase forestry best management practices, use of herbicides to thin undesirable species, the detrimental effects of woodlot grazing, illumination cutting of the timber canopy, and other forestry practices.

Curriculum/Outreach

SGC with the help of volunteers and consultants is compiled materials and photographs suitable for use with a traveling display, and portable outdoor classrooms have been purchased. A strong working relationship has been established with the Waynesburg Central High School Vocational Agriculture/FFA program, Waynesburg College, and the Student Conservation Association. A core group of students has been working in support of our project.

Community Kitchen

In an attempt to bring innovative and sustainable agricultural economic development to residents of Greene County, Pennsylvania, Sustaining Greene County (SGC) has been cataloging both the assets that exist locally and the barriers to agricultural growth. The county lacks licensed processing facilities of any sort but for purposes of this study, SGC will confine its comments to the feasibility of constructing a commercialized community kitchen.

Research results and discussion:

Poultry Project Milestones/Discussion
Processing equipment purchased
Portable pens built
Temporary fencing installed
Both free range and pastured poultry models demonstrated

It was decided early on that an attempt should be made to showcase both traditional Greene County free range poultry, and the Salatin model of pasturing poultry in movable pens. Both managment practices were implemented, and SGC staff have indicated a preference for either a free range model, or a model utilizing larger pens like those of Herman Beck-Chenowith. Our experience showed higher losses in the Salatin type pens from excessive heat and predator pressures, while the free range birds fared much better. The project used three breeds: Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red, and Cornish Jumbo Cross.
With their exceptional rate of growth, customer acceptance, acceptable foraging skills, docile demeanor, and ease of plucking we have a preference for the Cornish Jumbo Cross birds.
Customer reaction was extremely favorable, and requests for birds continue to come in. Increased awarness of our available processing equipment has generated interest with some farmers, and continued site monitoring by the Greene County Watershed Alliance shows no adverse impact to the environment.

Forestry Management Milestones
Site inventory and evaluation of woodlot species
Site plan written
Demo plots and practices identified

This was undertaken with considerable assistance from experts and the Pennsylvania DEP, and suitable demonstration plots and locations were found. The demo plots include installation of an improved stream crossing, riparian buffer management, installation of best management practices on a logging road and clear cut area, and a demonstration of the ill effects of woodlot grazing. For the most part, the demo plots were successfully installed with the exception of the woodlot grazing plot. Local drought conditions and a severe shortage of water on site limited the presence of grazing livestock. Fortunately we were able to easily show grazing damage by wildlife as an adequate substitute, and foot traffic on a woodlot trail effectively simulates soil compaction by livestock. Site monitoring by the Greene County Watershed Alliance shows no adverse impact to the environment.

Community Kitchen
Barriers Identified

In completing the study, SGC staff began by looking at existing kitchens that serve the general public. Several Greene County churches and fire companies have kitchens that are used frequently to host fund raisers, weddings, bingos, and the like. There are also several community centers located throughout the county that are equipped with kitchens. There is one hall that recently opened to cater to banquets, weddings, and other large events. In nearly all cases, however, federal and state regulations prohibit commercial food processing in home kitchens and require small processors to purchase equipment that meets health codes. By and large, these kitchens do not meet the standards to be licensed by the Department of Agriculture.

Most organizations have sent members to complete the Food Handlers Safety Courses being offered throughout the area but have not made the necessary renovations to their sites to meet Department licensing requirements. These kitchens are really not an option for a community kitchen, anyway. These organizations built these kitchens for their own use and have their own obligations to meet that would make scheduling difficult.

Access is always a barrier to growth in Greene County. The very rural, isolated nature that draws many folks to live here is also a stumbling block in many cases. Again, the Waynesburg area and Franklin Township are centrally located. People from all over the county come to Waynesburg frequently to shop and conduct business. Locating a site in this area would make the most sense.

These barriers are primarily bricks and mortar obstacles that can be overcome with investing enough funding to purchase either land or an existing structure and the time and patience required to create a commercial facility. It would be costly, and would require a large capital outlay and without government funding would be very difficult in Greene County’s current economic situation but could be achieved. Much more damaging to the feasibility of such a structure is the apparent lack of interest displayed by most Greene County residents. Anecdotal evidence supports only mild enthusiasm in supporting such a facility in Greene County. SGC staff has met with numerous people over the past two years and could not determine that there is much interest in having a shared-use kitchen located in the county. Through several public functions, SGC has been given the opportunity to present the idea of a commercial shared-use kitchen with over 300 people and less than 15% of that number expressed more than polite interest. When asked why, a variety of reasons were supplied; including, lack of time, lack expertise, but most disappointing was simply a lack of desire in producing any sort of value-added products. Possible products include salsa, canned tomato products, baked goods, noodles, and convenient meat entrees. Market opportunities include regional farmers markets, and a study focusing upon a farmer owned cooperative store is planned for 2006-7.

Outreach/Curriculum
Coverage provided by local/regional media
Close working relationships established to create flexibility in curriculum

This was perhaps our biggest challenge, to create adequate curriculum. After several false starts, it was realized that a significant amount of professionally prepared curriculum is available via internet. We then learned to ‘tailor’ our resource materials to the audience. Additional support was provided by the Greene County Watershed Alliance who repeatedly demonstrated stream monitoring techniques. Other education experiences were provided to local high school and college students, and walking tours were used in support of their own curriculum. A traveling display made numerous appearances at fairs, festivals, and educational events sponsored by other organizations.

Research conclusions:

The mere evidence of farming activity on a property dormant for such an extended period of time has considerable impact upon the public. Many individuals have visited unannounced, stating that they lived nearby in their youth or knew one of the previous landowners. The poultry project and clear cut demonstration have the most immediate visual impact as they are easily visible from the road.

We have found that we are now considered to be local experts on poultry production and processing, and have been asked repeatedly for information on topics from avain flu to egg production. One unexpected outcome was an offer to write for a local monthly newspaper with a focus on issues of sustainability. Project staff often get asked when out in public to provide updates on the poultry and forestry projects.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

We will continue to make use of our traveling display, and hope to continue the excellent coverage we have received in both local and regional newspapers. Currently we are developing an electronic newsletter which will eventually be available in print as well. Our current mailing list contains several hundred names.

We have hosted over 150 people at field day events on site, and are planning an additional 5-7 events for 2006. To date we have distributed over 1500 brochures which includes those provided by other organizations.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

While it is relatively easy to show the benefit of adequate best management practices upon a woodlot, it will be a number of years before we will be able to conduct an economic analysis of our forestry practices.

Poultry Project

While our losses far exceeded our estimates, it was determined that the primary causes were excessive heat and the ever present raptors. Losses to raccoons and similar predators were minimal.

Initial plans called for 500-750 birds to be on site, but drought related shortages of water and forage limited our number to 303. Of these, 73 were lost (predators, accidental crushing, heat)with the remainder available for market. 30 were kept for teaching purposes, 200 available for processing. Of these, 185 were processed and sold as whole chickens and the remaining 15 were marketed through a chicken dinner fundraising event.

The dressed weight averaged 5.5 lbs and the majority retailed at $1.50/lb, for a total of $1526.25. The 15 used as a fundraiser yielded an additional $915 sold as creamed chicken dinners.

Total income: $2441.25
Total expense: $2655.68
Net loss: $-214.43

It is very important to note that our total expense includes a one time charge related to housing expenses and processing equipment. While there will be minimal cost related to maintenance and repair of housing, the purchase of processing equipment ($800.00) will not be repeated. Without one time processing equipment costs, profit would be $585.57 or $2.92/bird.

Feedback from customers clearly indicates that a price increase would have little impact upon sales. We anticipate our 2006 price to be $2.25-2.50/lb which will significantly improve the sustainability of the poultry project.

Community Kitchen
In the course of completing this study in Greene County, a commercial shared-user kitchen was constructed in neighboring Fayette County. This facility, Foodservice Rentals is located in the Republic Enterprise Center in Republic, PA. The fully licensed kitchen provides individuals in various food service and production enterprises with equipment they need; a facility where a budding entrepreneur with a great food product idea or the seasoned caterer can rent. There is rental space available for storage in freezers or dry storage. An orientation session will be arranged to become familiar with the equipment and services provided. Each user must be licensed and registered with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. When users are ready to begin production, an hourly rate will be assessed for the equipment usage. Educational classes will also be offered, such as food preparation, food handling and safety and business planning. SGC has been invited to tour the facility and will recommend to other interested parties that they do the same. It’s our belief, that the facility, though not in Greene County, is located in a close enough proximity, that SGC should refer interested people to the Foodservice Rental facility, as opposed to constructing such a site in Greene County.

Farmer Adoption

Our farmer adoption rate to date has been less than expected, with three showing great interest in poultry production and two in sustainable forestry. We believe these numbers will continue to increase as our mobile poultry processing unit becomes available, and as we host more forestry related events.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Topics needing additional study:

Poultry breed selection for producers
Limiting predator pressure from hawks
Non traditional woodlot products suitable for this region

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.