FarmFest grows with organic movement

Chocolate chip walnut scones are displayed as Cindy Noel chats with a visitor about the foods offered at the Eden View stand during the 2013 FarmFest.
Chocolate chip walnut scones are displayed as Cindy Noel chats with a visitor about the foods offered at the Eden View stand during the 2013 FarmFest. CDT photo

Organic farming enthusiasts will bring their expertise and passion to the Grange fairgrounds in Centre Hall for the fourth annual Pennsylvania Organic FarmFest. A celebration of all things organic, FarmFest is a free event filled with an array of workshops, live music, a 5K race and — of course — the freshest food imaginable.

“Right now, the organic movement is as strong as it has ever been,” said Erin Condo McCracken, the coordinator of this year’s event.“I think of FarmFest as a celebration and it’s something that’s really accessible for families and the local community. There’s something for everyone and there’s so much to do that it’s hard to fit it all in.”

In what is quickly becoming a central Pennsylvania summer staple, FarmFest has seen significant growth since its inception. Last year’s festival saw a 50 percent increase of visitors from 2013. From Aug. 7-8, organizers hope for a similar boost in attendance.

“The fact that it’s free really helps to attract people, and we are eager to get the word out to these people about organic food and production,” McCracken said. “Over the years, FarmFest has morphed a little bit and our partners like Organic Valley have gotten more involved and have made the festival their own. They’re a farmer-owned cooperative and will be leading the Family Arena this year.

“One of the most exciting things is always the kid’s area,” McCracken continued. “There are crafts, a petting zoo and pony rides. But we also are having a dance on Friday night and renowned speakers who are experts in their fields sharing their experiences with us.”

For the past decade or so, there has been a major push throughout the country to “go organic.” Eating fresh and local is no longer viewed as something strictly done by hippies and health-fanatics. It’s now as prevalent in grocery stores as it is at farmers markets, and as we learn more about what’s really found in processed foods, its rise in popularity is a no-brainer.

“For a long time, we’ve been really disconnected from our food and knowing where it comes from,” McCracken said. “Now, people want to become connected to their food. They want to know where it’s grown and what chemicals were used on it because there are real health issues involved with it. Even being able to become familiar with your farmers and your growers and having that organic certification stamp of approval helps ensure that there is a certain amount of safety in the food and that steps were taken to help our environment.”

With this greater emphasis on fresh food and organic farming, the vendors and volunteers at FarmFest will be there to answer the usual questions concerning crop rotation, composting and free-range.

“This year’s theme is Non-GMO (genetically-modified organisms),” McCracken said. “There are a lot of people who are concerned about GMOs in their food and we are doing a whole educational track on that subject. We’re also giving workshops that will help home gardeners and those who wish to preserve their own food from their backyards.”

Perhaps one of the most reassuring aspects about FarmFest is how the crowds have embraced the concept of organic farming. The organizer’s messages are not only getting out, but are being adopted and applied by the audiences.

“The community’s responses have been overwhelmingly positive,” McCracken said. “We are promoting a healthy lifestyle and have reached a lot of people. We are hoping that we will continue on our past successes.”

This year’s event looks to build upon the strong foundation of education and entertainment that has come to define FarmFest for the past three years.

“We are bringing the community together for a celebration,” McCracken said. “At FarmFest, you are able to learn a lot while still having a good time. I always like to imagine someone strolling through the Grange fairgrounds, listening to the fantastic live music and grabbing a grass-fed burger while shopping for some local art and running into your neighbors. It is always the perfect day.”