Smart Talk

Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

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Host: Scott LaMar

Leadership through farming and ag worker shortage

Written by Merideth Bucher, Producer and Avery Van Etten | Aug 16, 2018 4:22 AM

Photo by LEAF


What to look for on Smart Talk Thursday, August 16, 2018: 

On a picturesque, three-acre farm along the banks of Sherman's Creek, youth from diverse walks of life arrive most summer mornings for their jobs. Their drive to work takes them over north mountain and into a more peaceful part of Central PA; rural Perry County. They come to work, to farm.  

The youth work for a non-profit called the LEAF Project, which stands for Leadership, Education and Farming. LEAF selects about 24 "interns" each summer, between 14-18 years of age, who work alongside farmers and chefs for the eight-week program.  

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LEAF Farm/Photo by LEAF

The project's mission is to develop youth leaders from diverse backgrounds through meaningful work in the food system. This includes everything from planning to planting, harvesting, packaging, marketing and preparing the produce. Organizers believe that by connecting youth to the food they eat, the land on which it grows, and to each other, leaders emerge who will be inspired to create personal and social change.   

Executive director Heidi Witmer founded the LEAF Project in 2013 with "the remarkable support of many people." She, along with most of the staff, have community development or education backgrounds, which supports the program's youth development mission. They also partner with other local farms and restaurants to expose the youth-interns to the wider food system in our area.  

Heidi Witmer, LEAF Founder and Executive Director is on Thursday's Smart Talk, along with Sam Predmore, Assistant Crew Leader and Dailah Mial, Field Crew Manager. Chef Kurt Wewer, Executive Chef and General Manager of Little Bird Craft Kitchen at Ever Grain Brewing Company is joining the conversation, as well. 

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Dailah Mial, Heidi Witmer and Sam Predmore

While LEAF cultivates leaders through work in the food system, farms across Pennsylvania are struggling to find enough workers. The second part of Thursday's Smart Talk explores this issue.

Local agriculture workforces are decreasing as families shrink, meaning that family farms now have fewer family members to maintain them. Locals may also prefer to hold jobs in industries besides agriculture, even if they grew up in farming families.

In addition, the agriculture industry relies on migrant workers, and more stringent immigration policies have discouraged many of these workers from coming to the United States.

The H2-A program has attempted to ease the problem of decreasing migrant workers by allowing employers in the United States to temporarily bring foreign employees into the country. It has experienced mixed levels of success. 

Joining us on Thursday to discuss worker shortages in agriculture are Mark O'Neill, Media and Strategic Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, and Jon Strite, Farm Manager of Strites' Orchard.

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Mark O'Neill

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