VALOR finds a spirited Central Virginia

VALOR fellow and Coastal Plains cotton farmer, Shelley Barlow, recounts the spring seminar and her experience with the niche market agriculture of Central Virginia. 

While sharing a meal, I never miss an opportunity to remind all who are gathered that every bite they enjoy, with only a very few exceptions, started out on a farm somewhere. If it weren’t for farmers and agriculture, we would all be hungry, thirsty, and naked.

How lucky are we that Virginia agriculture does it all. It’s clear that the counties of Central Virginia are doing their share to fill our needs and wants for food and drink with business acumen and leadership.

But it isn’t just luck, of course. Central Virginia is capitalizing on our cravings for good food and drink in new and innovative ways. Wine, beer, cider, grass-fed beef, and ice cream, all produced from Virginia grown grapes, hops, apples, cattle, and milk are just a few of the products we sampled.

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On this trip, we enjoyed creative meals at area restaurants made from many locally-sourced foods. It was an enticing and delicious show of the variety and diversity of the region’s agriculture. Actually seeing the whole process from field to glass or plate gave us a greater appreciation of the drinks and foods we enjoyed. From seeing acres of wine grapes and cider apples grown by John and Ruth Saunders at their Silver Creek Orchards, we went on to taste delightful wines at Emily Pelton’s award winning Veritas Winery and fine ciders at Albemarle Ciderworks. We also enjoyed meals at the Silver Mill Grille, Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie, and South Street Brewery, where they grow hops for their craft beers.

The VALOR program weaves coursework and team reflection into every two-day experience. In this, our tenth seminar, Virginia State Police Public Relations Manager Corinne Geller, and Virginia Tech Graduate Research Associate Sarah Bush, led compelling, interactive workshops on crisis management and conflict management approaches.

Seminar workshops set the tone as we travel as networking is carefully built into the fellowship of VALOR. Through wine tasting, heirloom apple pruning, and heritage cattle herding, we talk about leadership and how we can – and have – empowered people to understand how different conflict-handling styles affect interpersonal and group dynamics.

Following the workshop, we travelled together thoughtfully through the Blue Ridge foothills visiting and listen to agriculture leaders who are cultivating thriving local businesses Madison Wood Preservers, Senterfitt Farms, and Step-at-a-Time Farm.

On our last day, after helping move some of the beautiful red Devon cattle from one pasture to another at Jeremy Engh’s Lakota Ranch, we enjoyed a lunch of grass-fed burgers in the barn. Finally, we stopped by the Moo Thru for some locally made ice cream.

Wine, beer, burgers: these small businesses fill a diverse agriculture ecosystem of businesses within businesses. Almost every tour stop during this seminar provided an event venue space – from grand to simple – for weddings or other big celebrations. So if you’re ready to eat, drink, and get married, Central Virginia has it covered.

Learn Virginia agriculture to lead Virginia agriculture. Contact VALOR at 540-231-2375.

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