Getting to Know Executive Director Lynn Trizna

Photo by Anita Sergent

Our Farm is grateful to have farming expert Lynn Trizna as our new Executive Director. Lynn is the former Farm Manager for St. Luke’s Rodale Institute Organic Farm, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We recently sat down with Lynn to talk about her background, all things farming, and about sharing her vision for the future of Pitney Meadows and our community.

Where did you grow up? Did you have any childhood experiences of growing food or gardening?

Lynn Trizna: I grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. I always had a deep love for food, but I had never participated in growing food. My family had a garden, but my dad did all the gardening; it was his separate space, where he could spend time alone and do his own thing. So I wasn’t allowed much in the garden, which made me want to try it even more!

In West Chester there was a lot of farming—dairy, corn, and soy. That’s gone now for the most part. When I was little it was mostly farmland and it was turning into housing developments. Now it’s strip malls, housing developments, and luxury apartments.

I was aware even in elementary school that this was not a good thing. I missed seeing open fields and farms. I wasn’t thinking I wanted to be a farmer, I just knew that farmland disappearing was not in our best interest.

What brought you to farming? Did you envision you would be doing this after college when you enrolled in an Urban Studies/Environmental Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh?

 LT: I was an environmental studies major first. I found that it’s hard to convince people to preserve nature simply for nature’s sake. It’s easier to convince people to preserve nature when it’s coming from a human perspective. Thinking about human interaction with the environment, through policy work, discussion and nonprofits spoke to me more than pure science. We need housing and jobs and resources, so how can we do it in a way that growth is smart and we preserve the environment?

At some point you began volunteering and doing internships and apprenticeships at private organic farms while you were still in college. How did that happen?

 LT: I’ve always been a proactive person. I like to dive in and figure it out. When I decided I wanted to be in urban studies, I was home from college for the summer and decided to do a couple of internships to see what worked best for me. With the local municipality, I did case studies of green buildings using the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) system. I found that although it was a good learning experience, being in an office just wasn’t for me.

That summer I also volunteered on a farm and they ended up hiring me. It was an all-female farm, on family land and they had hired a farm manager. It was really great; people were very patient with me. It wasn’t just exposure to farming but to a different way of living. When I was growing up, our meals were a meat, a carb, and a vegetable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I learned to cook vegetables in different ways. My first time at a farmers market was in college.

I realized that sharing and cooking meals is important to building a community. I went to other farms and workshops. And I learned on organic, small-scale farms how willing people are to help each other. We’d go to a neighboring farm to help them harvest, and they helped us. The attitude at the farm was: We’ll teach you and help you.

Farmers are good at making things unintimidating.

In studying the environment, I loved that improving your soil and your habitat for pollinators can increase your bottom line. In small-scale agriculture you’re not exploiting the environment but making an investment in people and soil and the ecosystem.

The idea of “community” has been important in your work, working with a more community-based model of farming. How did you choose this versus starting a farm of your own?

LT: I had a lot of opportunities over the years to start a farm or take different avenues in agriculture. But certain things speak to me. A lot comes from hard work and starting with the basics, working your way up, and taking risks. The different opportunities to start my own farm felt isolating. I wanted a different challenge. Collaborating with a group of people and organizations was a challenge I liked and wanted to do, and I had a grasp on it and my abilities.

I’d done seven years of production farming when I came to St. Luke’s. I was drawn to bringing people to the farm, to understand their food and enjoy farming. Before St. Luke’s I’d worked at places where people were comfortable on the farm and were exposed to it. Being part of St Luke’s, some visitors were awkward and uncomfortable on the farm. I like figuring out how we can get people to know farming and to bridge that gap and normalize it.

Teenagers, for example, saying, “I’m going to scuff my sneakers and get dirt under my nails? What?” Then they realize it’s fun, and they go from “I don’t want to walk in the dirt” to “You step aside. I’m going to rake in this cover crop.” It happens within a couple of hours.

At Pitney Meadows, as a farm in the city, more people can see that getting dirty and doing hard work is something to be proud of. That it’s so beneficial both mentally and physically. They can see that blue-collar work is a skilled thing and that to farm you have to be intelligent. You can’t afford to outsource; you have to manage your finances, market, fix a tractor, manage a staff of crazy independent individuals, which all the best farmers are.

As the farm manager at the St. Luke’s Rodale Institute Organic Farm, you created a Farm-to-Hospital model. You produced 100 varieties of fresh organic vegetables for the plates of patients, employees, and cafeteria visitors at seven St. Luke’s campuses. What are some of the ways you grew that farm and the difference it made to the people who got your fresh food?

 LT: Starting the St. Luke’s farm and seeing the effect it had on the community was amazing. St. Luke’s had bought property that was all farmland and wanted to preserve part of the property to promote organic produce. They could partner with a young farmer that can’t afford to purchase land but has expertise and skills to start a farm. And the farm could easily benefit from those partnerships that institutions like St. Luke’s have.

In production farming, you don’t often have the time to do the education and community outreach you want to do. So at St. Luke’s it was nice to be able to plug into what their Community Health department and their Employee Wellness department were already doing. We grew 50,000 pounds a year for the healthcare network. We couldn’t have done that without St. Luke’s partnerships and insert them into the farm. They had a relationship with the elementary school and the school would come in and we’d provide tours. Our CSA was coordinated through Employee Wellness, so we just grew the food and distributed the shares. I wrote the newsletter, but they sent it out. They answered questions. We didn’t have to manage everything. They had the resources.

I had been farming since 2007 for people who were already educated about believing that small-scale farming was beneficial, people who were already coming to farmers markets and coming to the farm for a CSA. We didn’t have to build a community or convince people. So it was great to share this information and the farm with people who didn’t go to the farmers market or who wouldn’t have come to a farm otherwise. We had people who said they never ate produce coming up to us saying, “I bought kale at the farmers market on the campus!” That was such a great victory. Or someone saying, “Your lettuce tastes like lettuce!” People realize it has smell and flavor. It’s also nice to see a hospital president in a suit do the same thing! That expression, no matter what age or who you are or your status, is the equalizer. You’re all on the same page of enjoyment.

Something we started was to have medical students and residents tour the farm and then volunteer if they were interested. They had had very little instruction on nutrition. If we’re working toward prescribing vegetables for patients, in order to prescribe you have to understand what you’re prescribing. So having the doctors come to the farm, they learned about seasonality and the benefits of nutrient-dense fresh local produce.

In turn, the farm can learn a lot from the healthcare provider. I worked with the institution’s kitchens and learned how to grow to best serve their community. It’s a back-and-forth exchange.

We helped change the diet of the hospital, incorporating fresh produce and removing fried food from patient meals and the café for staff and visitors. Removing those deep-fryers was great but controversial. A lot of our produce was on the salad bar, and the hospital subsidized the price so it was very affordable. The increase in sales was astonishing.

At Pitney Meadows, we’d like to explore connections and partnerships with local healthcare providers. We’re very interested in seeing that happen. It’s a great way to reinvest in their community and the health of their employees as well.

One of your goals at Pitney Meadows is expanding education programs. What additional kinds of programs would you like to see here?

LT: The farm has done really well during Covid. We’re still able to have community gardens and grow for the CSA. The trails went in and there are recreational opportunities. But continuing educational programs during a pandemic without being able to plan for that was a challenge. I’ve been talking with community gardeners and other individuals, and people want to learn how to contribute, how to grow their own food. We had a conversation about no-till farming, and people are very interested in what that is. We have a lot of expertise and knowledge, so sharing that knowledge is important. People are curious, to grow, harvest, and cook.

What if people have gone their whole lives without cooking farm-fresh produce? It’s a whole lifestyle change. We’re thinking of a prescription CSA program and a mobile kitchen. A lot of health issues like diabetes and hypertension are lifestyle issues. We want to make growing and cooking unintimidating, to be a resource. I got into cooking and eating healthy when I had a community that was doing that. People are going to be successful if they have instruction and encouragement, have a friend to do it with.

With a mobile kitchen, we would connect with different local chefs and people who are excited about it, and we already have so many culinary connections. We could go to a local pantry we’re donating to and show people what you can do with produce. We could also go to schools, which would complement our farm-to-school program. For CSA members, we could offer cooking classes, virtual and in person. We hope to have socially distanced classes next season so anyone can do it. A mobile kitchen can add that education component.

The Pitney Meadows team is predominantly female. How do we encourage more women to get into farming?

LT: As a young girl, you might not think, I’m going to be a farmer. You have to work for it. I remember when I was at St. Luke’s and I was driving a tractor, moving something before a meeting, and someone said, “Oh, you know how to drive that?” And I thought, Who do you think has been doing this for the past three years? Of course I know how to drive a tractor!

As the farm progresses, it would be great to add internships as an educational component. In my experience, females will apply and want to work where there is a female farmer. Eighty percent of applicants at my former job were female, along with a special kind of male who wants to be part of the farm; they have to be great with a female crew.

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