The inaugural class of VALOR kicked off its eleventh of twelve seminars in Central Virginia on May 15. John and Ruth Saunders greeted the group in the pouring rain to share their insights about multigenerational farming that has had to diversify and specialize crops to remain viable over the years.
Ruth is the seventh generation in her family to manage Silver Creek Orchard which is, in many ways, stronger than ever, producing multiple apple varieties for fresh consumption and cider, 60 acres of wine grapes, and 275 head of brood cattle. Her co-manager and husband, John, is a graduate of CALS and member of our Hall of Fame Saunders family. Hard work and risk with new growing methods, coupled with sound research and networking, have allowed their business to continue to prosper.
The next stop was with Albemarle CiderWorks, who buys some of their fruit from Silver Creek. Lessons in cider-making, business in a growing industry, and tastings of traditional Jeffersonian-era cider rounded out the afternoon.
Nestled among the remaining days of the seminar were several other visits with Agricultural industry leaders. Emily Pelton hosted fellows at Veritas Winery, along with Michael Shaps of Virginia WineWorks, for a very candid discussion about an industry that has grown five-fold in the last 20 years.
Lessons in business decisions, expansion for the public, finding a family passion, and common sense strategies about the technicalities of one of the few fully vertically-integrated enterprises in agriculture were shared. VALOR visited Babes in the Wood, a forest fed hog operation in Dillwyn, to learn about a unique approach to direct market pork production and learn from an innovative agriculturalist that chose enter agriculture nine years ago as a second career.
Fellows learned about the importance of engagement on industry boards, professional organizations, and responsibility toward environmental stewardship from Kenwood Farm dairy operator Monk Sanford. Also a board member of Farm Credit of the Virginias, it was an opportunity to share insights with Sanford as part of an organizational sponsor that solidified the commitment that Farm Credit has in fostering skill development in Agricultural Leaders. The final farm stop was at Liberty Mills Farm, a family-owned community supported agriculture (CSA) operation that was the dream of owners Kent and Evie Woods when they moved to Virginia to begin second careers in agriculture. Our last evening was spent talking about agricultural engagement with the Williamson family at their home, as they hosted us for dinner at Step at a Time Farm in Culpeper.
Each visit served as insightful as the group connected all that the program has covered throughout two years together with respect to leadership development and professional skill. Fellows worked through exercises and activities that reflected on their personal assessments in emotional intelligence, cognitive problem solving style, conflict mode response, leadership strengths, and Myers-Briggs personality types.
Additionally, they took a leadership practices inventory and invited others in their personal networks to do the same so that they could compare how they view themselves to how others view them. Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education graduate students Brad Burbaugh and Adam Cletzer did a presentation on Invisible Leadership as it relates to so much of the advocacy and committee work done in agriculture. This was certainly apparent throughout the stops on this seminar.
As the general content-based seminars for this VALOR class come to a close, fellows look forward to the final seminar in July at which they will present their personal best leadership projects to Advisory Council members and begin a strategic visioning process that will launch them as program alumni. A special graduation ceremony is being planned to conclude what has been a jam-packed two-year fellowship experience.
For more information about VALOR, please contact program director Megan Seibel at 540-231-2375. You may also visit the program website for more information about the program, the fellows, and joining our growing network of sponsors and supporters.