A greenhouse is as good as a grocery store for executive sous chef Mike Passanita.
Passanita, who works for Parkhurst Dining Services at St. Francis University in Loretto, has been growing herbs and vegetables in a greenhouse on the campus since February. He grows lettuce, parsley, thyme, sweet basil, stevia, cilantro, rosemary and cosmos, which are edible flowers.
"I really try to do the sustainability thing and buy as much local as possible," Passanita said. "I like to know where the food comes from. ... It's the quality alone, plus having it on hand - it's kind of cool to just go out to the garden and pick what you need."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Mike Passanita, executive sous chef for Parkhurst Dining Services at St. Francis University in Loretto, checks on dill growing outside of Torvian Hall. In the foreground is peppermint.
Of course, Passanita can't grow enough food to feed the entire campus. He said Parkhurst tries to buy from local farmers, and about 20 percent of the food served at St. Francis is purchased locally.
"I'm all about the environment, and eating as healthy as I can, with the freshest produce," Passanita said.
One of those local suppliers is Blue Goose Farm, a 150-acre farm in Nicktown. Owner Scott Farabaugh grew up on a conventional farm but turned to sustainable methods when he started farming about 10 years ago.
Altoona Farm Market
Heritage Plaza, downtown Altoona
9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays, June through October
Hollidaysburg Farmers Market
Off the Diamond, Montgomery Street, Hollidaysburg
10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays, July 10 through Sept. 25
Tyrone Farmers Market
Logan Avenue, Tyrone
Wednesdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., July through October
Downtown Bedford Farmers Market
Fort Bedford Park, Bedford
9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednes-days and Saturdays, May through October
For a complete list of farmers markets, visit www.agriculture.state.pa.us. For a list of farms that have Community Supported Agriculture, visit www.
He doesn't use much chemical fertilizer, instead spreading manure from cows he raises on his farm, and only sprays for bugs when he sees them, instead of regularly treating crops with pesticides.
"Some of the (conventional) things just didn't feel right," said Farabaugh, 36. "We grow what we eat, so if I'm hesitant about putting it on for my kids, why would I sell it to my customers?"
Buying local, sustainable food has grown in popularity recently, though the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture has been supporting the cause since 1992.
"The buy local movement is based on the idea that if you're buying food from your neighbor, you're increasing sustainability from the carbon footprint standpoint, as the food travels not nearly as far to get to the plate," said Kristin Leitzel, coordinator for Centre County Buy Fresh, Buy Local. "And you're sustaining your community by supporting the local economy."
Tensions sometimes arise in the farming community between conventional farmers and those who produce organic food or grow on a smaller scale, said Mark O'Neill, media relations director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau in Camp Hill.
"The one problem that sometimes creeps up is when one element in the farming community may say their way is the best way to do it, the only way to farm," O'Neill said.
PFB supports farmers of all sizes and commodities, O'Neill said, because all are necessary to support the economy of a farming community.
"Before they say our way is the only way - especially some of the smaller farms - what they need to realize is they need mid-size and bigger farms in the area, because of the infrastructure involved," he said. "If you don't have medium- and larger-sized farms, you will not have the dealership there selling equipment or grains or processors close by, and all of that will add to the cost of farming."
Last year, Blue Goose started a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, in which customers sign up and pay in advance to receive fresh produce from a farm each week during the growing season.
The CSA helps Farabaugh keep his business even more local, which he prefers - the closer to home, the cheaper the delivery, and he prefers dealing with his neighbors.
"Maybe it's the one thing I was ahead of the curve on," he said, "but I like doing business and seeing a face."
At the Altoona Hotel, executive chef Bill Sell selects local produce from Friends Farm in Williamsburg, which also operates a CSA. Sell said he buys local produce purely because of taste.
"You can definitely tell the difference between the produce I get from there and the produce that we get in in wintertime when they're not growing," he said. "The tomatoes, the lettuce we use for salad - they were probably growing in the field that afternoon."
Mirror Staff Writer Ashley Gurbal is at 946-7435.