Category: General

Mini-Grant Success Stories: Introduction to Getting Your Hands Dirty

Over the coming months, we will be sharing the success stories of our 2015-2016 VBFRC mini-grant projects. This month, we are highlighting “An Introduction to Getting Your Hands Dirty,” a mini-grant project by the Fauquier Education Farm and Virginia Cooperative Extension (Fauquier Office).

This project was brought together as a compliment to the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program. Through five years of Beginning Farmer trainings, the most frequently requested additional training from students was an intensive how-to-farm course. Many students recognized that they lacked the basic farming skill sets to launch their new enterprises, and there had not been any entry-level courses locally available for them to acquire these skills. Thus, “An Introduction to Getting Your Hands Dirty” was born!

During April and May of 2016, 22 students attended this 6-week course. The course included classroom lectures, outdoor labs held at the Fauquier Education Farm, and farm tours. As a result of the course, a majority of students reported that their knowledge had increased a great deal. Students also reported that the course exceeded their expectations – some even wishing the course were longer so more information could be offered!

The success of the 2016 “Introduction to Getting Your Hands Dirty” mini-grant project prompted another submission for a VBFRC mini-grant by the Fauquier Education Farm and the Fauquier office of Virginia Cooperative Extension. This project was funded and has already begun! On March 29th, a free orientation was offered to introduced interested individuals to the program, and classes will begin on April 5th. We are delighted to see this project continue and look forward to hearing about this year’s successes!

If you are interested in hearing more about the “Introduction to Getting Your Hands Dirty” workshop successes, please contact Jim Hankins at fauquieredfarm@gmail.com

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A New Year for the VBFRC

On January 18th, 2017, partners of the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition gathered at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, VA to network, share progress on current work, and discuss the future of the Coalition.

Since our last meeting in May 2016, the Coalition has been hard at work addressing various topics relevant to beginning farmers and ranchers in Virginia. Our critical action teams have held marketing training events for producers and service providers, created brochures to advertise land transfer resources, and spoken with military veterans across the state in an effort to begin a Virginia chapter of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. Our evaluation team has been working with our partners to gain feedback on our current and previous Whole Farm Planning programs. Our seven 2015-2016 Mini-Grant projects have concluded, and six new projects have just begun.

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We were happy to have our 2015-2016 Mini-Grant project leads join us to participate in a panel discussion. Each lead shared highlights from their projects and lessons they learned over the last year. Advice offered by these leads will be useful to our 2017 Mini-Grant project leads, as well as organizers of other projects that our Coalition partners hold across the state.

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Our partners then spent the afternoon brainstorming and discussing the interesting things we learned during the meeting, how we can work better together to achieve our goals, and what we want to see happen for the Coalition in 2017.

So what exciting things do we have happening in 2017?

  • Six new mini-grant projects happening all across the state
  • Targeted work addressing: direct marketing, military veterans, land access, and stewardship best practices
  • Farmer mentoring/networking opportunities connecting you with other experienced and beginning farmers and ranchers
  • Webinars presented by a number of service providers and Coalition partners working in all areas of agriculture
  • Blog posts written by Coalition partners on various Coalition and agriculture-related topics
  • Continued updates provided through our website and social media accounts

 

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The VBFRC Farm Transfer Training and Coalition Meeting

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On May 16th and 17th, the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition (VBFRC) held two meetings at the Virginia Farm Bureau building near Richmond, VA. Farmers, service providers, and Coalition members gathered from all across the state to participate in a farm transfer training event and discuss the progress and future work of the Coalition.

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The first meeting was a Farm Transfer Strategy and Networking Training planned by the land transfer action team formed at the Coalition meeting in October. We were pleased to have several individuals with experience in the area of land transfer join us for the training. Kathy Ruhf of Land For Good, a nationally recognized leader in farm entry, succession, and tenure, was the main speaker for the event. Kathy shared an overview of succession planning, how service providers in Virginia can increase their awareness of the intricacies involved when discussing farm succession, and how to make those conversations easier. Two attorneys, Andrew Branan (The Branan Law Firm, PLLC) and Mark Botkin (BotkinRose PLC), also shared some of their experiences in farm succession and discussed what farmers should do to develop a succession plan before talking to an attorney. Lastly, a panel of Virginia Cooperative Extension specialists, including Peter Callan, Gordon Groover, and Adam Downing, discussed their roles in extension as they relate to land access and what resources they have to offer for others to use. During the training, attendees took time to discuss what they are working on in the area of farm transfer and what resources they use to address the issue.

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The second meeting was the VBFRC Statewide Gathering. These meetings are a way for Coalition members to hear about what is happening within the Coalition and make plans for future work. In the morning, attendees split into groups to discuss important topics relevant to reaching our objectives. These topics included: farmer mentoring, farmer-led innovation, health-based and assistive technology support for farmers, underserved farmer audiences, and understanding the needs of young farmers. In the afternoon, the action teams formed at our October Coalition meeting met to introduce new members to the work, set goals for the coming months, and identify what resources would be needed to move forward.

Both the Farm Transfer Strategy and Networking Training and the VBFRC Statewide Gathering were huge successes. As a result of the training, several service providers across Virginia have a better understanding of the many pieces involved in the discussion of farm transfer and are more prepared to have such a discussion with farmers and ranchers across Virginia. The VBFRC Statewide Gathering allowed for feedback to be provided on where and how the Coalition should focus its efforts and offered up a space for our action teams to continue with the work they are doing in their respective areas.

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Conversation with Herbert Brown, Sr. and Herb Brown, Jr., Browntown Farms (Warfield, VA)

In the summer of 2015, the Virginia Farmer and Rancher Coalition team spoke with Herbert Brown, Sr. and Herb Brown, Jr. about their farm, Browntown Farms. This conversation covered how the farm got started, how labor is managed, and expansion plans for the future. Browntown Farms is located in Warfield, VA.

Browntown Farms has been in Warfield since 1908. The farm started raising sweet potatoes and collard greens and expanded over time. People are happy with the produce grown on the farm and often visit Browntown Farms to buy the produce. Herb will be taking over the farm and plans to continue this growth, expanding both the farm and the market opportunities by becoming an agritourism location. To hear more about the marketing and expansion of Browntown Farms, watch the video below.

Herbert grew up growing tobacco and raising a large garden. The farm was expanded to introduce different produce varieties after attending farm workshops and seminars. In addition, advice from other experienced farmers in the community aided the growth and development of the farm. To hear more about the development of the farm and Browntown Farm’s advice for new farmers, watch the video below.

Browntown Farms has several employees that are picked up and dropped off each day by the farm owners. Hired labor is vital to the success of the farm, and Herbert and Herb have had to develop their management skills to keep labor organized and efficient on the farm. To hear more about how labor is managed and motivated on Browntown Farms, watch the video below.

 

Interviewed by: Theresa Nartea, Virginia State University

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Conversation with Amy Hicks, Amy’s Garden (Charles City, VA)

In the summer of 2015, the Virginia Farmer and Rancher Coalition team visited Amy’s Garden to talk with Amy Hicks about what is grown on the farm, how the farm developed, and how labor is handled on the farm. Amy’s Garden is an organic farm located in Charles City, VA and you can visit the website at http://www.amysorganicgarden.com/

Amy’s Garden produces organic vegetables, fruits, and cut flowers sold primarily at farmer’s markets. Amy watches food trends and past sales in order to plan what will be grown each season and uses Excel spreadsheets to stay organized. To hear more about the marketing and planning that goes on at Amy’s Garden, watch the video below.

Amy’s Garden is located on 70 acres of land but began as a “backyard garden” and continued to grow into the business that it is now. Hiring labor and communicating with Virginia Cooperative Extension has helped them to be successful through the years. To hear more about how Amy’s Garden started and get more advice from Amy, watch the video below.

 

Amy’s Garden hires five H-2A agricultural workers and also employs local college-aged students. Organic farming is very labor intensive and it is difficult to find hard workers, with the H-2A process involving a good deal of paperwork and process. However, her employees work hard and take on a lot of responsibility on the farm and at farmer’s markets. To learn more about Amy’s Garden’s labor practices, watch the video below.

 

Interviewed by: Theresa Nartea, Virginia State University

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Conversation with Anne Geyer, Agriberry Farm (Hanover, VA)

In the summer of 2015, the Virginia Farmer and Rancher Coalition team met with Anne Geyer, of Agriberry Farm, to hear how they got started, how they run their operation, and how they manage labor and tasks on their farm. Agriberry Farm is located in Hanover, VA and you can visit their website at: http://agriberry.com/

Anne did not grow up on a farm and pursued farming with a sense of optimism and excitement. Agriberry was started in 2008 as an opportunity to grow raspberries and blackberries for a worker training program aimed towards people with no experience in farming. Hear about Anne’s beginning in farming and get advice on your own beginning in the video below.

Agriberry farm grows a number of berries, cherries, and peaches, though the focus is on raspberries and blackberries. Because the farm is always in a state of planning and development, Anne is constantly setting and reconsidering the goals that have been set for Agriberry. Hear about how Anne adjusts the goals set for Agriberry and hear a little about what factors influence these adjustments in the video below.

Agriberry uses online and in-person tools to recruit workers, adopting newer technology to get and stay in contact with their younger workers and make them more comfortable at work. Their workers basically work in berry picking but also have workers who go to farmer’s markets and sell their berries. Hear about the labor Agriberry hires and trains, and the challenges Anne has seen over the years in the video below.

 

Interviewed by: Theresa Nartea, Virginia State University

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Conversation with Vincent Porcello, Porcello Farm (Charlottesville, VA)

In the spring of 2015, the Virginia Farmer and Rancher Coalition team met with several farmers across the state to hear their stories about how they got started in farming, how they run their operations, and how they manage labor and tasks on their farm. Vincent Porcello, of Porcello Farm just south of Charlottesville, VA, volunteered to share some of his experiences with us.

Vince feels confident in how he and his wife, Jessica, got started in farming. They worked with the local extension office, attended seminars, started small, and stayed organized. Vince encourage new farmers to plan ahead in order to increase your chances of being successful and enjoying the benefits of running a farm.

Vince and Jessica work alone on the farm, following the light of the day. They are never idle throughout the year – maintenance gets done in the winter and major production gets done in the spring and summer. The labor aspect is very demanding. However, working on their farm fits with their lifestyle more than hiring labor would, and Vince encourages farmers to consider their lifestyle goals before bringing hired labor onto their operations.

Vince and Jessica started selling at the local farmer’s market and eventually expanded their market to include stores in town. Now, they are able to sell flowers and a number of vegetables to local sources.

 

Interviewed by: Cathryn Kloetzli, Virginia Cooperative Extension

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Conversation with Jamie Barrett, Bellair Farm (Charlottesville, VA)

In the spring of 2015, the Virginia Farmer and Rancher Coalition team met with several farmers across the state to hear their stories about how they got started in farming, how they run their operations, and how they manage labor and tasks on their farm. One such farmer is Jamie Barrett, owner of Bellair Farm. Bellair Farm is a CSA in Charlottesville, VA.

Jamie was not always farming, or even in agriculture. He found farming through the Farm School in Massachusetts and felt fulfilled by the work he did there. Jamie then worked at Appleton Farms in Massachusetts until deciding to start his own enterprise in Charlottesville. Hear all about how Jamie found farming and established Bellair Farm in the video below.

Bellair Farm has been established for five years and includes, in total, about 300 acres with a vegetable farm and pastureland. While Bellair Farm is a CSA, some of the vegetables are sold through other channels. Listen to Jamie tell us about what is grown on the farm and where products are sold.

Bellair hires a handful of workers every season, introducing new workers to the farm through a guided approach. Jamie takes great care to make sure that the goals of his employees align well with work on the farm and helps them to reach their personal farming aims. Hear about Bellair Farm’s labor situation and how workers are managed on the farm.

In the future, Jamie would like to continue expanding the farm and begin planning more long-term. Feeling confident in the enterprise and being able to plan in this way takes more time on the farm and Jamie is excited to keep moving forward. Listen as Jamie shares his vision and goals for Bellair Farm’s future.

 

Interviewed by: Cathryn Kloetzli, Virginia Cooperative Extension

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2015 Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference, Sacramento

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There’s no equivalent to being around like- minded people that are willing to take time away from their lives and families to attend something important. People from all over the country came together November 17 – 19, 2015 to network, learn from one another and find ways to re-acclimate from the military to the civilian world. Farmers, supporters and partners shared experiences, educational material and advice to hundreds of vets looking to enter or continue in the farming community. I was honored to be one of the attendees.

My personal experience led me (by accident) to agriculture. I joined the Army at seventeen and after ten years, with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I honorably discharged to be at home after the premature birth of my youngest daughter. I entered a new world, a world I was not prepared for. After, obtaining an assistantship in my undergraduate degree, I began to work in agriculture. Agriculture was pure peace. It was a space that I was not forced into conversation or asked questions. I was able to work hard on the land with results that had a purpose.

My experience led me to both a Master’s degree and now a PhD. I am studying my personal, as well as other military veterans, experience in agriculture. Unbeknown to be, there is a growing community of military combat veterans that have experienced similar benefits from farming or are eager to start farming. Many of them attended the 2015 Farmer Veteran Coalition stakeholder conference this past November in Sacramento California.

My goals for attending the conference included gaining new ideas, fresh insights, listening to inspiring stories, and networking. Listening to, meeting, and later sharing ideas on research with the United States Department of Agriculture Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison, USDA Lanon Baccam, Qualitative Core Director-Medical Anthropologist, Center of Innovation on Disability and Rehabilitation Research for Veteran Affairs, Dr. Karen Besterman-Dahan and Col. Cindra Chastain the Farmer Veteran Liaison for the National AgrAbility far exceeded my expectations for the conference. Their commitment to military veterans in agriculture inspired my aspiration to continue the direction of my research. In addition, I had the opportunity to converse with many fellow military veterans, whom with I formed exciting new relationships.

Col. Chastain introduced me to many other AgrAbility staff across the country including, the National AgrAbility program director, Bill Field. I was honored to discuss their views on military veterans in agriculture, as well as, their experiences in AgrAbility. AgrAbility is a sponsor of the FVC and I have recently joined the AgrAbility Virginia team through an assistantship with Virginia Tech under Dr. Kim Niewolny as part of my PhD studies.

The Mission of the Farmer Veteran Coalition is “Mobilizing Veterans to Feed America”. We share the belief that veterans possess the distinctive skills and personal character needed to build up agriculture communities and create sustainable and secure food systems. As my own experience has shown, farming offers veterans opportunity to work on the land in a physical manner. Psychological benefits occur through purpose.

Attending the conference gave the opportunity to specifically identify public and private entities that can work in collaboration to provide assistance to military veterans entering the agriculture community.  I was also able to view specific detailed quantitative and qualitative data showing how working with plants and animals and producing food is therapeutic to those dealing with post-traumatic stress and/or traumatic brain injuries. I learned of Homegrown by Heroes label and the importance of its use in marketing military veterans’ products.

Outstanding breakout sessions were available. I attended Employment Opportunities in Agriculture, Successful Farmer Veterans – Stories of Transition and Achievement, Ag Entrepreneurs – veterans who have launched successful agriculture businesses outside of production and Financing Your Farm which all helped me understand how to better support veteran farmers. Finally I attendant the closing dinner. Where, successful stories of healing were shared and Mayor of Turlock, California discussed his time and work in Afghanistan and his mission to build their agriculture. Dinner allowed a space for more networking and sharing.

One repeated theme throughout the conference was how important local agriculture and food security are to our nation. There was no disagreement that military veterans are a great fit and should be a part of the solution. The veteran farming coalition, the executive director, Michael O’Gorman, staff, supporters, partners and of course, the military farming veterans, have a great community with in themselves. The Farmer Veteran Coalition was a true gathering of inspirational, motivating and supporting people. I was more than privileged to attend.

The AgrAbility Virginia website can be found at: http://www.agrability.ext.vt.edu/

The Farmer Veteran Coalition website can be found at: http://www.farmvetco.org/

Post Contributed By: Crystal Kyle. Crystal is a PhD student of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech, and works as a graduate research assistant for AgrAbility Virginia.

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5 Things You Should Know About Farmland Leasing

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Kathy Ruhf of Land for Good​, keynote speaker at the workshop, summarizes key considerations when crafting a farmland lease.

 

We have all heard about how hard it is for beginning farmers to get onto a nice piece of farmland. If you want to be a farmer, one of the biggest challenges is how to gain access to good land, as Kathy Ruhf of Land for Good, a nonprofit that helps farmers access land, will tell you. Land access is especially difficult if you are new to farming, and don’t have farmland in the family.

I am one such individual. My husband and I aspire to – god willing – in a few years – and if all else goes according to plan – gain access to a piece of farmland. We have big dreams, which are slowly but surely evolving into a working farm business plan, for the future dream farm. Depending on how things go, we might lease land, or lease out pieces of land we own, or both. Either way, the topic of farmland leasing is a new one for us, and, honestly, maybe a little intimidating.

Luckily, there is help for people like us. I recently attended an excellent workshop in Charlottesville, put on by the Piedmont Environmental Council, all about farmland leasing. The workshop really boiled down a lot of the sticky points. I’d like to share with you five main points that I found to be super-helpful in understanding farmland leases:

  1. Leasing can be a great option for beginning farmers looking to gain access to farmland, since it is less financially risky than purchasing land. By leasing their land to a farmer, landowners are helping to keep farmland in production, which helps ensure our community’s food security in the long run, while promoting good stewardship of the land.
  2. Landowners get a substantial tax break when they lease their land to a farmer. This can be enough that some do not even charge rental fees.
  3. Farmland leases can (and should!) include lots of specific terms of the agreement, like what sorts of farming practices are or are not allowed, who is responsible for maintenance of things like water and fencing, and when/how each party has access to farm buildings and equipment. This helps both parties know where they stand, and reduces confusion if issues do arise. See Land for Good’s Toolbox for Leasing Farmland for a summary of things to consider.
  4. If the landowner plans to help farm, and may work on the farm more than 500 hours a year, s/he may be viewed as a sort of “partner” in the farm enterprise, so may have to pay the self-employment tax. This part of farmland leasing has inspired me to always seek consultation by a lawyer while crafting a lease agreement.
  5. If you’re looking for land to lease in Virginia, check out the Certified Farm Seeker Program. It hooks up experienced farmers who are looking to retire with new and beginning farmers who are looking to get on a piece of land, whether it’s leasing or owning. Some have gone so far as to compare the program with farmersonly.com (online dating for farmers!), but the program is much more than that. While Certified Farm Seeker still certainly requires work on the part of both parties, the program helps that relationship get started, and provides resources beyond, to facilitate the land transfer.

I have learned that leasing farmland is a great option for someone who is looking to get into farming, or wants to expand their farming operation. It is also a good option if one buys farmland, but may not be ready to farm it themselves quite yet (plus, you get a tax break). Most of all, I learned that there is plenty of help for those who want to learn more, so I invite you to click on the links in this blog for more information.

 

Post Contributed By: Lorien E. MacAuley, M.S.. Lorien is a PhD student of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech, and works as a graduate research assistant for Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition.

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