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VALOR heads to Northern Neck and Chesapeake Bay

With a focus on agriculture, technology, and the environment in mind, the inaugural class of VALOR participated in a fast-paced seminar to the Northern Neck and Chesapeake Bay, July 19-24, 2013.

Innovation in the oyster industry was on display at Cowart Seafood Corporation where A.J. Erskine, Aquaculture Manager and Field Scientist, led the group through the nursery, algae laboratory, and processing aspects of bringing quality oysters to market. Consumer demand for high purity Omega-3 fatty acid products was discussed throughout a sensory-stimulating tour of Omega Protein, and Menhaden fishing became a central discussion from the standpoint of both business and Bay ecosystems. General Assembly member, Delegate Margaret Ransone, met the group at Omega to discuss the value of being actively involved in legislation affecting agriculture throughout Virginia as members of the Commonwealth’s leading industry.

The evening of July 19 concluded at the Northern Neck Farm Museum, where area representatives prepared dinner, dined with the class, and shared in dialog and presentations. U.S. Congressman Rob Wittman joined in the fellowship of this meal, sponsored by Colonial Farm Credit and Pioneer Seed, and other guests included farm museum board members, local government, and Eastern Virginia AREC superintendent, Bob Pitman.

Bright and early Saturday morning, the group boarded the Carol Loni II to depart for Port Isobel off the Coast of Tangier Island for a two-day, one-night excursion with Chesapeake Bay Foundation personnel, policy directors, and educators. Candid discussions about farming and the Bay and ways to proactively collaborate to protect the interests of both groups occurred, along with experiencing educational activities on the water.

A highlight was an after dinner conversation with Tangier Island Mayor “Ooker” Eskridge, who shared his love of being waterman and the generations-old fishing industry. He also spoke of the island with a culture all its own that is both removed from the constraints of today’s society and still in touch with the mainland.

Upon returning to ground in the Northern Neck Sunday evening, VALOR participants embarked on two days of exploring large scale production of more traditional agricultural commodities, such as corn, soybeans, grains, and produce. Montague Farms showcased precision agriculture at its best on their operation that produces quality food-grade soybeans for export to Japan. Parker Farms produces much of summer’s fresh produce for commercial retailers in the mid-Atlantic and the sweet corn was truly divine when eaten alongside the harvesting crew in the field. Dana Boyle, of Garner’s Produce proudly showed the group her produce farm and her family prepared a meal for the group to eat under the shade trees in pure summertime grandeur. Nursery and landscape wholesale production was explored at Ingleside Plantation. All four family operations boasted highly specialized jobs and experience in bringing a product to market, and openly embraced the group as one that can advocate for them and agriculture as a whole.

Service providers from the Soil and Water Conservation District and Virginia Cooperative Extension shared information about programs for farmers and consumers. Topics ranged from soil education and water conservation to small grains research and farm transition issues. Strengths-Based Leadership was the professional development educational component of the week and was discussed in a workshop conducted by Agricultural and Extension Education faculty member Eric Kaufman.

For more information about this and other program seminars, please visit our website and blog regularly. We look forward to Seminar VII in September as we travel to the Great Lakes region. Inquiries about program participation and sponsorship should be sent to VALOR Director Megan Seibel at mseibel@vt.edu or 540-231-2375.

The program was also recently featured in VT News.

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VALOR in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C.: A study of urban agriculture and U.S. agriculture policy

VALOR participants gathered in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. for their most recent seminar.

VALOR fellows gathered in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. for their most recent seminar.

VALOR held the fifth of twelve seminars in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. from May 10-15. Taking opportunity of both geography and demography of the area, participants explored a range of ideas related to agriculture on the urban fringe and national agricultural policy.

The first stops on the trip were the Virginia Tech MARE Center and Alson H. Smith, Jr. ARECs. Rebecca Splan, Jake Grove, and Tony Wolf all generously shared their time and information about the impressive research occurring in both facilities that is setting Virginia apart as a leader in several agriculture-related fields. Mary Ellen Taylor, owner of Endless Summer Harvest, shared a love of new agriculture with passionate exuberance at her hydroponic lettuce facilities, and our first day concluded with a meal of fresh greens. Continue reading

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Ready for Richmond: Leadership and legislation in action

VALOR class members were in Richmond, Va., from Feb. 11-14, 2013 to learn about legislative advocacy and policy development. While meeting with Martha Moore of Virginia Farm Bureau Governmental Relations and Donna Pugh Johnson, past-president, Virginia Agribusiness Council, the class received firsthand information about lobbying and relationship building. The seasoned lobbyists shared the importance of connectedness and truth in the work that they do. Class members received media and interview training from the communications staff at Virginia Farm Bureau. Participants were tasked with discussing the issue of cost share support for environmental protection. Norm Hyde, video production supervisor, and Sherri McKinney, senior video producer, asked everyone to communicate in sound bites and to stay focused on their message despite the interviewers’ off-topic questions. The training proved to be fun and challenging.

Megan Seibel, VALOR Director, and Kelsey Brunton, program graduate research assistant, conducted two dynamic workshops related to visioning, communication, and inspiring action. Class members were given the thought-provoking task of envisioning the future of agriculture. Participants also learned the importance of communicating beliefs and purpose when discussing a new idea. Continue reading

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VALOR program starts new year with a focus on human development

The Virginia Tech Hampton Roads Center offered a two part series of human development courses for the Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results program’s inaugural class.

“The VALOR Program is designed to develop leaders who can effectively engage all segments of the Virginia agricultural community to create collaborative solutions and promote agriculture inside and outside the industry. Participants, ages 25 to 55, will include individuals with a vested interest in the success of Virginia agriculture and leadership for the industry” says Megan Seibel, program director.

“The program’s goal is to explore the many sides to every issue, law, and practice impacting agriculture in our state and beyond. Participants from varied public and private backgrounds will develop a well-rounded understanding of these topics through shared experiences and opportunities, helping them to shape the future of our industry,” Seibel added.

In the first session, Stacy Harvey, outreach program manager, facilitated a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator workshop that included the 12 participants and their spouses. This dynamic group spawned lively discussions about the relevance of the MBTI in their personal and professional lives.

Harvey said, “Participants commented about how eerily-accurate their reports were. In follow up conversations from the workshop, all of the participants talked about how much better they understood themselves and how they were already using the insights in their management roles to improve awareness and communication.”

In the second session, Melissa Maybury Lubin, director of the Virginia Tech Richmond and Hampton Roads centers, joined Harvey to facilitate a session on emotional intelligence.

The EQi-2-0 is a highly actionable tool that measures a collection of components comprising our emotional and social functioning and general psychological well-being. It is a valid and reliable tool that can be used by employers for hiring and professional development of their employees.

“The beauty of the EQi 2.0 model is that it bridges self- and social-awareness along with the aspects of problem solving, decision making and stress management. An individual can access their current strengths and vulnerabilities and develop a plan of action for how to leverage these areas for personal development,” Lubin said.

During the engaging and interactive workshop, the group broke up into small teams to help each other develop personal strategies of development.

“It was a well thought-out presentation and quite enlightening,” Ian Heatwole, principal of Fox Run Farms, said. “Effective leadership requires the ability to connect with people and being familiar with one’s EQ strengths and weaknesses.”

Harvey and Lubin plan to follow the impact of the session on the group by administering the EQi-2-0 again in one year to measure the individuals’ development.

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VALOR Fellows complete third seminar

On Janurary 4, the VALOR Fellows embarked on their third seminar in the Shenandoah Valley and, true to form, this seminar was just as exciting and jam-packed as those previous. Class members were involved in media training at WVPT in Harrisonburg and had an opportunity to do on-camera interviews. The class then partnered with industry leaders to conduct appreciative interviews. After many words of wisdom were shared, a dynamic panel discussed contemporary agricultural issues and innovative approaches to understanding them.

The first tour of the seminar was at White Wave Foods in Mount Crawford. The class had an opportunity to taste some of their products and talk with plant managers about plant operations and continuous improvement. Following the tour, the class traveled to Covington, Va., to explore the MeadWestvaco Paper Mill. VALOR Fellows observed the milling process from timber to paper product while discussing everything from energy and efficiency to forestry and sustainability.

On day three, class members examined tree seedlings while touring the Virginia Forestry Department Nursery in Crimora, Va. The nursery manger explained the narrow margins within which he works and the careful calculations required for plantings. In Lexington, Va., the class meet with the Leech family, pioneers of dairy farming and the application of robotic milking parlors. Then the group toured and talked with many individuals working for the Virginia Poultry Cooperative about regulations, economics, and resiliency. After learning from a Virginia Poultry Grower and Advisory Council member about biosecurity and poultry science, the class viewed “American Meat” directed by Graham Meriwether. Members of the class identified a desperate need to proactively and positively portray agriculture the future of agriculture while representing both direct market farming and production agriculture.

Jeff Slaven and his family conversed with the class about leading practices in the beef industry and expanding local business impact on Sunday morning. In a subsequent tour of Railside Enterprises, VALOR fellows learned about how the business is impacted by legislation, transportation, and niche markets. The seminar concluded after hearing from leaders in the company who challenged class members to be knowledgeable and engaged in agricultural legislation as advocates for the industry.

Special thanks to Bruce Bowman, Stan Brantley, Eric Fitzgerald, Dwight Houff, David Lawrence, Vernon Meacham, Wayne Pryor, Paul Rogers, David Shiflett, CG Thornhill for sharing your insight and wisdom with the VALOR Fellows.

— Kelsey Brunton

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VALOR’s Seminar II focused on agricultural trade and communicating with others

The VALOR fellows met in Suffolk, Va. on Nov. 15-18, 2012, for the start of their second jam-packed four-day seminar that included stops around the Tidewater and Eastern Shore regions of the state.

The first stop on their journey was the Smithfield Innovation center, where class members learned about cutting-edge technology and product testing. Over lunch, the class heard about the nationally recognized sustainability initiatives taking place at Smithfield Foods and the opportunities the company is embracing with social media to address consumer needs and concerns. The class also toured the Smithfield’s meat packing plant.

Stan Brantley, advisory council member and president of Amadas industries, discussed the company’s focus on diversified products for specialized operations. The fabrication shop showcased the construction of large farming equipment, while Amadas Coach showcased custom craftsmanship and design. Brantley and his wife graciously hosted dinner for the group and special guests. Commissioner of Agriculture Matt Lohr, also an advisory council member, discussed social media as an imperative interface for advocacy for the industry. Tom Loehr, vice president of Rolls-Royce Crosspointe, addressed the group to share his corporate challenges with global markets and future initiatives of industrial engineering and manufacturing in a way that integrates many of the same needs faced by agricultural technology.

Fellows had the opportunity to discuss agricultural trade and policy litigation with a VDACS global marketing specialist and the manager of Royal Fumigation. Both men discussed the great support of the state government in successful trade collaborations as well as the challenges and opportunities that exist in international trade. The Purdue Agribusiness Deep Water Port echoed many of these takeaways in addition to explaining the complexities and science of trading grains. The class finished off the evening with an intensive workshop on emotional intelligence and an engaging dialogue with a local agriculture teacher about peanuts, the City of Suffolk, and students who will enter our industry professions.

A tour of Commonwealth Cotton Gin, while in operation, allowed an opportunity to learn about cotton production from farmer and advisory council member, Paul Rogers. The Virginia Port Authority gave a dynamic presentation on trade and focused on the impact of agricultural exports and imports.  The class then toured the Eastern Shore to discover the aquaculture, vegetable, and poultry initiatives that are taking place. Dinner was hosted at the Eastern Shore AREC with special guests.

Check out the VALOR blog for the fellows’ seminar reflections.

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Inaugural VALOR fellows participate in first seminar

VALOR inaugural class

VALOR fellows, from left: Ben Grove, Jim Hilleary, Matt Hickey, Dana Fisher, Andrew Smith, Teresa Lindberg, CJ Isbell, Ian Heatwole, Hunter Richardson, Ken Ryan, and Roger Elkins.

The inaugural fellows of the Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining results (VALOR) program participated in their first of 12 seminars in September in Blacksburg, kicking off the beginning of a two-year journey through leadership development, team building, advocacy training, exploration of industry issues, and stakeholder networking.  The program’s eleven members were chosen Continue reading

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Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results Program names inaugural class

The Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results (VALOR) Program has selected its inaugural class, which comprises 11 outstanding individuals from throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. “I am excited about the group we have compiled for the inaugural class,” said Megan Seibel, VALOR director. “We have great expectations for the individuals selected. They will lay the foundation for the program and establish its reputation for greatness among industry stakeholders. We anticipate their tremendous impact as strong industry leaders for years to come.”

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