PA Preferred: It’s relationships that count

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By ANDY ANDREWS

Special correspondent

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HARRISBURG, Pa. – This year’s Pennsylvania Farm Show is all about building “relationships.”

Guests of the Pennsylvania Farm Show’s new PA Preferred Reception, hosted the night before the Farm Show’s official public opening, sampled delectable entrees from a host of locally grown and processed food items.

Most importantly, visitors learned what PA Preferred is all about.

“People feel real good when they buy directly from farmers close to home,” said Steve Bogash, regional horticulture educator and marketing specialist with southeast Penn State Extension, who attended the event with his family.

“Locovores”

“Locovores” — consumers who literally “eat locally” –are making up a greater percent of the consuming public, said the educator.

The simple fact, Bogash said, “is the quality of the product being grown locally and other aspects makes people feel good about purchasing.”

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is “all about relationships,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russ Redding.

Traditionally, a sit-down banquet is conducted the night before the opening of the show. This year, instead of the banquet with its focus on the accomplishments of the Pennsylvania Department of Ag, the PA Preferred reception focused on the producers and their products.

Food stations

Five food stations located in the food court of Main Expo Hall featured PA Preferred-label products, including beef, chicken, lamb, pork and trout. A separate station featured PA Preferred wines.

The first station, chicken, included coconut-braised Bell and Evans chicken with fried plantain chips and salsa prepared by Iron Chef James Batterson and presented by poultry processor Scott Sechler of Lebanon County.

The second station, lamb, featured seared Jamison Lamb over potato pave made from a trio of Pennsylvania potatoes, all prepared by Iron Chef Michael Geary and presented by growers and processors John and Sukey Jamison, Westmoreland County.

The third, beef, included herb-roasted Certified Angus Beef tenderloin with caramelized onions and mushrooms drizzled with a God’s Country Creamery bleu cheese and smoked bacon sauce atop a baguette.

The station also featured Teriyaki Certified Angus Beef tenderloin served on a cilantro sweet potato cake prepared by Chef Kasey Kirk and presented by Jeff Nogan, Lackawanna County beef producer.

The fourth station featured roasted loin of Hatfield pork with chicken apricot mousse prepared by Iron Chef Mark Pawlowski and presented by Chris Hoffman, Juniata County.

The fifth station featured Amish corn fritters with smoked Limestone Springs trout and green apple “caviar” prepared by Iron Chef David Stoltzfus and presented by Brent Blauch, Lebanon County.

Jamison Farms

John Jamison, along with wife Sukey, operate Jamison Farms in Latrobe, Pa. The prepared lamb tasted by PA Preferred Reception guests was a saddle of lamb — the loin area — with garnish on top, including spinach, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes.

The lamb is raised at the rotationally grazed farm and processed at the USDA federal plant in Latrobe, said Jamison.

The plant employs four full-time. Jamison supplies the grass-fed, processed lamb to local retail customers, including Giant Eagle and others.

He has built relationships with a core of food stores, chefs and others who “want to know where their food comes from,” said Jamison.

Grass-fed lamb has a “cleaner taste,” he said, than grain-fed lamb. The western portion of Pennsylvania is ideal for the type of grass necessary for tasty lamb.

Mixed Dorset breed

Altogether, Jamison raises a mixed Dorset breed on 212 acres with 150 acres devoted to a rotational grazing system using bluegrass and white clover.

Jamison used to manage two-acre paddocks but has since simply kept a larger rotationally grazed area. About 400 head of lambs are on site. The Jamison family has been raising lamb since 1985.

Chef Michael Geary noted the lamb station piece de resistance was a triple potato pave with Jamison Lamb tips, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and Kalamata olives covered with French feta cheese and quick-fried leeks.

Ag Secretary Russ Redding noted the Farm Show and the reception provides a “teachable moment” so that producers and consumers can have conversations — conversations that build relationships.

And guests seemed to enjoy it very much. It’s that “relationship-building,” said Roberta Bogash, who visited with her husband, Steve, and son, Joseph, between the producers and consumers that drives the “locovore” industry.

Built on trust

The relationship is built on trust. Consumers are “developing a relationship instead of just getting stuff,” she said.

“People want to feel some degree of connection with food,” said Steve Bogash, Penn State horticulture educator.

For some larger chains, such as central Pennsylvania Giant supermarkets, it has been very difficult to source local food. However, at the same time, more produce auctions for local producers are opening up at a record pace, with 3-4 new ones in the past five years.

According to Frank Jurbala, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Market Development, the PA Preferred Program was introduced at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in January 2004.

The program was modeled after the 20-year-old Jersey Fresh Program in New Jersey.

Qualifications

To qualify for a PA Preferred license, raw products must be 100 percent harvested in a raw/live state from a Pennsylvania location or grown at a Pennsylvania site for at least 75 percent of the product’s production cycle.

Processed products must meet state and federal food safety and sanitary requirements and the company must be headquartered in Pennsylvania. The products must be final processed and packaged in a Pennsylvania facility.

If the primary raw ingredients of the product are grown in Pennsylvania, the processor must buy as much of that ingredient from Pennsylvania as practical, given seasonal restrictions and other business exigencies.

The program also licenses retailers, restaurants, food service operations, distributors, processors, nurseries and more.

More information

To learn more about PA Preferred, visit www.papreferred.com or call 717-787-5086.

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