Helping communities become more sustainable and economically secure

Beth Schermerhorn

Beth Schermerhorn is conducting a survey to measure food access in Harrisonburg. Her project, Harrisonburg EATS, is funded through the Community Viability Endowment.

Ten years ago, an endowment was created to help communities across the commonwealth and beyond be more sustainable and resilient through partnerships with Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and local community members.

Since its inception in 2004, the endowment, which has grown to more than $2 million, has provided income to fund numerous projects that foster partnerships and spur creative research at the granular level. It has also provided seed money for an array of projects with wide-ranging impacts.

“A gift like this can get lots of different projects started,” said Rick Rudd, head of the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Professor of Excellence in Community Viability, a position funded by the endowment. “We are helping people leverage resources.”

The gift was given in honor of R. Michael Chandler, Donald P. Lacy, and J. Douglas McAlister in recognition of their service to Virginia Cooperative Extension.

One initiative that has its roots in the Community Viability Endowment is the Virginia Agricultural Leaders Obtaining Results program. Supported with seed money from the endowment, the program trains professionals from industry, academia, research, and education to serve as leaders in the agricultural industry.

Another program currently being funded is the Appalachian Foodshed Project. Funds from the Community Viability Endowment have helped get crucial conversations started about strengthening food security networks throughout Appalachia.

“The project has brought more awareness about the challenges Appalachia faces when talking about community food security,” said Susan Clark, associate professor of horticulture and director of the program. “By listening to what community stakeholders are telling us, everyone learns how to work together to meet the goal of regionally enhanced food security.”

In the Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg EATS is also being funded by the Community Viability Endowment.

“We’re hoping to engage the community but also to have those tangible impacts that come out of this process,” said Beth Schermerhorn, education research support specialist at the Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education development program. “Part of our goal is not only increasing food security through access, which seems to be what the broader discussion is about, but also providing meaningful employment that provides a salary and living wage through food systems.”

Other projects funded this year include programs to expand science-based outreach and to use agricultural curriculum as a multidisciplinary teaching tool.

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