PA VinES (Pennsylvania Vested in Environmental Sustainability) is a voluntary program that promotes self-assessment of on-farm operations in Erie County’s vineyards and provides a pathway for grape growers to access state funding that can offset the cost of installing agricultural conservation practices.  

tractor in vineyard field in erie county

Vineyard in Erie County (PA VinES)

To date, PA VinES (Pennsylvania Vested in Environmental Sustainability) has successfully leveraged over $400,000 of state and federal funds to engage with Erie County Conservation District’s (ECCD) grape growing community and help install agricultural conservation practices that can reduce nutrient and sediment impacts to drinking water.

The program came into existence when the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Management and U.S. EPA co-funded the creation of the workbook in 2015. At first ECCD had a limited capacity to distribute the workbooks, help farmers create conservation plans and apply for grants, or install practices. In 2017, U.S. EPA provided ECCD with a $64,000 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant that allowed for the hiring of a part-time dedicated staff member to provide technical assistance to enrollees and generally oversee the program through the end of March 2019. 

Since 2018, approximately 35 workbooks have been distributed, and nine self-assessments have been completed. The dedicated staff member has carried out over 40 one-on-one site visits with individual farmers and engaged hundreds more through agricultural industry meetings and public events. Roughly $36,000 has been awarded to enrollees through the Growing Greener grant fund, which also requires a 15 percent match from the landowner. Additional federal funding has also been leveraged to support practices that qualify for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. So far, 495 acres of cover crops, 820 feet of stabilized access roads, one stream crossing, and four blind inlet/water collection structures have been implemented because of these funds and activities.