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Pennsylvania Governor’s Administration Awards $1 Million in Farm Vitality Grants Created by 2019 PA Farm Bill 

Pennsylvania Secretary Russell Redding today announced $1 million in Farm Vitality Grants awarded to 133 farms in 46 counties. The grants, which aim to enhance the long-term vitality of Pennsylvania’s family farms, will be administered by the Ag Business Development Center created under the 2019 PA Farm Bill.

“When Pennsylvania farm families succeed, Pennsylvania succeeds,” Secretary Redding said. “These grants will help farm families with all types and sizes of operations create sound plans for their future, and explore the feasibility, profitability and sustainability of those plans.”

Grants fund professional services, including financial and tax planning, research, marketing and other consulting support to plan a farm’s future. The center partners with more than 50 service providers across the state to provide sound business planning for efficient ownership transitions, strategic expansion, diversified production, and financial or technical expertise. Grants will reimburse up to $7,500 of the cost of the funded service.

Grant recipients represent a broad spectrum of farm sizes and products including dairy, fruit, nuts, vegetables, livestock, poultry, Christmas trees, grains, flowers, honey, maple syrup and Pennsylvania’s newest crop — hemp. Their proposed plans seek to conserve land and water resources, expand their capabilities to produce using organic or aquaponic methods, process dairy into yogurt, cheese or other products popular with consumers, or add direct-to-consumer sales to their business models.

Donald Bergbigler’s Butler County beef farm is among sixty of the recipients who operate preserved farms – those whose farms are part of a conservation easement purchased with state, federal, local government and private money and must remain productive farms in the future. Keeping that public covenant to stay in farming rather than sell to developers requires strategic business planning and sustained investment to remain profitable generation after generation. Bergbigler has worked his entire life to build his farm operation from the ground up and is transitioning the farm to a young neighbor who is an experienced farmer.

Camphill Village Kimberton Hills Dairy is a preserved, 250-acre Chester County dairy operation with 100% grass-fed and pasture-raised cows. The operation is part of a 420-acre, sustainable community for adults with disabilities. The farm sells their milk for yogurt and ice cream.  They also sell their bottled milk to stores, at a farm market and through a Community-Supported Agriculture, or CSA program, selling shares directly to consumers.

The dairy is seeking funds to create a business plan to explore expanding into cheese-making. The farm is among 34 dairy operations to receive the grants.

Anastasiya Konopitskaya’s 10-acre hemp operation in Berks County grows hemp for fiber and industrial use. She operates a full-service design and build company, and research and development lab to incorporate healthy plant- and mineral-based materials into residential and commercial construction.

Her company has partnered with All Together Now Pennsylvania, Rodale Institute and Jefferson University and is seeking to develop a formal business plan to help grow their business, ultimately creating revenue and local jobs.

United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh is leasing land in Mercer County through Western PA Conservancy and plans to produce culturally appropriate, in-demand foods for Somali Bantu refugees in the region. The project involves support from Penn State Extension, PASA Sustainable Agriculture, Western PA Conservancy, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and the USDA’s Natural Resources and Conservation Service.

Seventeen grant recipients will be involved in PASA Sustainable Agriculture’s Diversified Vegetable Financial Benchmarking Study, an opportunity to improve their bottom line, working with more than forty peer Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic farms, and two consulting organizations. Insights from the report aim to give achievable targets for revenues, scale and profit margins. Meetings among participants will also connect them to a group of peers to help support them as they improve their long-term viability.

“Whether supporting Somali Bantu farmers in the Pittsburgh region or vegetable farmers across the commonwealth, the Farm Vitality Grants program will make a tremendous difference in farmers being able to create plans for a more viable future,” Pasa Executive Director Hannah Smith-Brubaker said. “None of us could have anticipated the extreme demands that the current pandemic would have on farmers, and we all know that having a plan helps us weather unforeseen circumstances, so the timing for this program couldn’t have been better.”

These are just a few examples of project planning funded through these grants. A full list of grant recipients by county can be found on the department’s website.

Pennsylvania Department of Health Launches COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard

The Pennsylvania Department of Health launched an online early warning monitoring dashboard that provides information statewide and county COVID-19 prevalence to track increases in disease in the community on a weekly basis.

“This dashboard provides the entire community with early warning to changes in COVID-19 infection so that we can take action to prevent spread,” Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Recent increases in COVID-19 cases in parts of the state have shown the need for Pennsylvanians to continue to take simple steps to prevent the spread of this virus. Wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, maintain social distancing and stay home if you are sick.”

The dashboard shows data points being used to assess the spread of the virus in the state and in each county, including:

  • Difference in confirmed cases (last 7 days vs. previous 7 days);
  • Incidence rate (last 7 days and previous 7 days) per 100,000 residents;
  • PCR positivity rate (last 7 days and previous 7 days);
  • Difference in the average daily number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the last 7 days and the previous 7 days;
  • Difference in the average daily number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators in the last 7 days and previous 7 days; and
  • Percent of hospital emergency department visits in the last 7 days and previous 7 days due to COVID-like-illness (CLI).

The dashboard will be updated on a weekly basis to assist in providing information regarding the prevalence and severity of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.

Organizations Across Pennsylvania Join Ag Secretary in Calling for TEFAP Waiver Extension

On Friday, June 26, Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue pleading for his continuance of Pennsylvania’s waiver for the need to collect client names and addresses and verify income eligibility for those receiving USDA Foods through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) through the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2020.

Senator Bob Casey, PA Congressional Delegation, Hunger Free PA, Feeding Pennsylvania, PA State Council of Farm Organizations, and PA State Grange echoed Secretary Redding’s message to Secretary Perdue by writing letters of support.

As a direct result of COVID-19, Pennsylvania’s charitable food system continues to experience stress from unprecedented demand. A survey of Feeding American member food banks in Pennsylvania revealed that they are seeing an average increase in demand of more than 50 percent since the pandemic began. In a state that normally serves approximately two million people annually through our emergency food response in all 67 counties, data collected since the end of March shows that Pennsylvania’s charitable food system has served more than 5.5 million people in just three months. Allowing Pennsylvania’s food banks to forgo data collection for providing USDA Foods can help to alleviate further bottlenecks at food distributions, where lines are already long.

KFF’s Kaiser Health News, AP Investigate the State of the Nation’s Public Health Infrastructure as It Confronts the Challenge of the COVID-19 Pandemic

A new investigation from KFF’s Kaiser Health News (KHN) and The Associated Press examines the troubling state of the public health infrastructure the nation is relying on to navigate the health and economic threats presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The multipart investigation, which launched today, finds that the public health workforce in the United States is underfunded and under threat, lacking the basic tools to confront the worst pandemic in a century. The novel coronavirus has infected at least 2.6 million people in the U.S., killed more than 12,000 people and cost tens of millions of jobs and $3 trillion in federal rescue money.

Among the key findings in the series’s first story, “Hollowed-Out Public Health System Faces More Cuts Amid Virus”:

  • Since 2010, spending on state health departments has dropped by 16% per capita, and in local health departments by 18%, in 2019 dollars after adjusting for inflation, according to the KHN and AP analysis.
  • At least 38,000 state and local public health jobs have been eliminated since the Great Recession in 2008, leaving an inadequate workforce in what was viewed in the mid-20th century as one of the world’s best public health systems.
  • At least 14 states have already cut or are actively considering cuts to health department budgets or positions. States, cities and counties, facing declining revenues amid the economic downturn, are laying off and furloughing the already limited staff.

For their first investigative collaboration, KHN and AP journalists interviewed more than 150 public health workers, policymakers and experts, analyzed state and federal financial records, and surveyed statehouses around the country. Their investigation finds that governments at every level have failed to provide the public health system with the resources — both human and financial — that are required to protect the nation from pandemics.

The reporting also shows how public health officials, who already work on an array of tasks for their communities — such as administering vaccination programs, tracking and preventing infectious diseases, screening infants, monitoring water and air quality, and conducting food and restaurant inspections — are stretched thinner than ever as they work to reduce and monitor the effects of the pandemic. Departments are having to spend already constrained budgets on adequate supplies to keep workers safe as they try to implement preparedness plans and mount effective contact tracing efforts with limited staff. And they have been targeted for criticism by frustrated elected officials and members of the public who blame them for unpopular lockdowns and safety restrictions.

“Bringing together the resources of both The Associated Press and KHN enabled us to marry hard-to-wrangle data with compelling stories from the front lines of the nation’s public health system as it grapples with this pandemic,” said KHN national editor Kytja Weir.

“We are pleased to be working with Kaiser Health News to take a deep look at what is really happening inside the U.S. public health system,” said AP investigative editor Alison Kodjak. “This is important public service journalism at a critical time.”

Through the collaboration, AP and KHN have shared data and offered guidance to news organizations that are AP members and customers to help them localize the findings of the investigation for their regions. KHN and AP expect to publish more stories in the series over the coming weeks and months.

About KFF and Kaiser Health News

Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California. KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF and, along with Policy Analysis and Polling, is one of the three major operating programs of KFF. KFF is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

About AP

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting. Founded in 1846, AP today remains the most trusted source of fast, accurate, unbiased news in all formats and the essential provider of the technology and services vital to the news business. More than half the world’s population sees AP journalism every day. Online:


Chris Lee | KFF | (202) 654-1403 |
Patrick Maks | The Associated Press | (212) 621-7536 |