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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