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.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Erie County Conservation District (ECCD) and their partners began this program in 2014 to reduce the amount of sediment and nutrient pollution entering waterways from the region’s approximately 10,000 acres of vineyards. While there are many other programs dedicated to advancing agricultural conservation, PA VinES’s exclusive targeting of this relatively small, but economically significant group of producers is unique. To participate, farmers complete a workbook that was created through a collaborative effort of Penn State Extension and Cornell Cooperative Extension. The workbook was designed to illuminate economic and environmental impacts of grape production operations and serve as an educational resource for farmers. This self-assessment contains 115 questions about on-farm practices that are divided into seven areas of agricultural management. Farmers score themselves based on their answers and can use the score to identify strategies for improving conservation outcomes.
Once the workbook has been completed the farmer becomes eligible to apply for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener grant funds, which is administered by ECCD to offset the cost of implementing approved conservation practices. In addition to the educational and networking benefits of engaging with ECCD and completing the self-assessment, gaining access to this grant money provides a financial incentive for enrollment in PA VinES.