FarmFest brings farmers and consumers together

Edna Kotrola sews a backing for her “Aprons with Personality” tent during FarmFest at the Grange fairgrounds on Friday.
Edna Kotrola sews a backing for her “Aprons with Personality” tent during FarmFest at the Grange fairgrounds on Friday.

It turns out that weather is a concern for both farmers and FarmFest alike.

Fortunately, nothing but sunshine greeted visitors to the Grange fairgrounds late Friday morning, where Pennsylvania Certified Organic’s fifth annual celebration of sustainable agriculture kicked off the first of its two-day run.

Still, for a while there, the cloud situation was looking very touch and go.

“The weather is, so far, cooperating. We had some rain yesterday that made us nervous,” said Mallory Smith, FarmFest coordinator.

It’s an understandable concern, the equivalent of throwing a great big barbecue where all the neighbors show up but it’s too wet to even light the grill.

At its inception, Smith said the festival welcomed almost 1,600 guests. This weekend, they are anticipating about 5,000 attendees during the course of two days.

That’s a lot of spare ribs going to waste.

But in this case, it’s not about the food — well, in a roundabout way, it is. FarmFest is more concerned with bringing together farmer and consumer — feeding the conversation surrounding organic farming and sustainable agriculture more than feeding stomachs.

“We’ve got a wide variety of vendors that have enjoyed coming to FarmFest for a long time,” Smith said.

Variety is the key word.

When selecting vendors, Smith and company are careful not to have, say, 10 maple syrup vendors at any one time.

Interspersed among the pancake toppings were homemade soaps and people like Woody Wilson.

As both the namesake and proprietor of Wilson Home Farms, the green-thumbed entrepreneur considers FarmFest a networking opportunity, a chance to connect with potential clients that compensates for what he’s found to be a deficiency in other marketing opportunities.

“I enjoyed it last year. It’s a great event for bringing people who are into food here,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s business is somewhat unique — he installs and maintains raised vegetable gardens on other people’s property. He sows the seeds and his clients reap the rewards, which in this case is lettuce, spinach and tomatoes.

The home and garden shows that Wilson has attended in the past tended to favor landscapers and sliding contractors. At FarmFest 2015, he finally began to grow his own niche.

“I talked to a lot of people who became clients of mine over the year,” Wilson said.

Other booths in attendance swapped entrepreneurial spirit for a more educational bent.

Representatives from organizations, such as AgrAbility or the United States Department of Agriculture, were on hand to answer questions about sustainability and organic farming related issues.

Molly Hippensteel, a public affairs specialist with the National Resource Conservation Service, supplied tips on topics ranging from attracting local pollinators to achieving USDA organic certification.

She considers FarmFest an effective forum for touching base with the agriculturally inclined.

“It allows us to educate the public. Sometimes they don’t always know the services that are available to help them with certain state conservation policies,” Hippensteel said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready