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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.

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Central Virginia serves as backdrop to VALOR inaugural class’ last full-content seminar

The inaugural class of VALOR kicked off its eleventh of twelve seminars in Central Virginia on May 15. John and Ruth Saunders greeted the group in the pouring rain to share their insights about multigenerational farming that has had to diversify and specialize crops to remain viable over the years.

Ruth is the seventh generation in her family to manage Silver Creek Orchard which is, in many ways, stronger than ever, producing multiple apple varieties for fresh consumption and cider, 60 acres of wine grapes, and 275 head of brood cattle. Her co-manager and husband, John, is a graduate of CALS and member of our Hall of Fame Saunders family. Hard work and risk with new growing methods, coupled with sound research and networking, have allowed their business to continue to prosper.

The next stop was with Albemarle CiderWorks, who buys some of their fruit from Silver Creek. Lessons in cider-making, business in a growing industry, and tastings of traditional Jeffersonian-era cider rounded out the afternoon.

Nestled among the remaining days of the seminar were several other visits with Agricultural industry leaders. Emily Pelton hosted fellows at Veritas Winery, along with Michael Shaps of Virginia WineWorks, for a very candid discussion about an industry that has grown five-fold in the last 20 years.

Lessons in business decisions, expansion for the public, finding a family passion, and common sense strategies about the technicalities of one of the few fully vertically-integrated enterprises in agriculture were shared. VALOR visited Babes in the Wood, a forest fed hog operation in Dillwyn, to learn about a unique approach to direct market pork production and learn from an innovative agriculturalist that chose enter agriculture nine years ago as a second career.

Fellows learned about the importance of engagement on industry boards, professional organizations, and responsibility toward environmental stewardship from Kenwood Farm dairy operator Monk Sanford. Also a board member of Farm Credit of the Virginias, it was an opportunity to share insights with Sanford as part of an organizational sponsor that solidified the commitment that Farm Credit has in fostering skill development in Agricultural Leaders. The final farm stop was at Liberty Mills Farm, a family-owned community supported agriculture (CSA) operation that was the dream of owners Kent and Evie Woods when they moved to Virginia to begin second careers in agriculture. Our last evening was spent talking about agricultural engagement with the Williamson family at their home, as they hosted us for dinner at Step at a Time Farm in Culpeper.

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Cowboys, sugar, and horticulture: VALOR fellows explore South Central Florida

VALOR Class II expanded its horizons with a six-day November trip to Florida, their eighth of 12 seminars. And while there is no doubt about the diversity of agriculture in our own commonwealth, seeing a small slice of Florida’s agricultural diversity was eye-opening.

Comparing the two states further reveals some major differences. Florida represents nearly 66,000 square miles of land and nearly 20 million residents, while Virginia has roughly 43,000 square miles and just over 8 million people. This difference in size was illustrated often during the seminar. Another difference? Florida’s commissioner of agriculture is elected, while both Virginia’s commissioner and secretary of agriculture are appointed by the governor.

VALOR in Florida

Focusing on the large central interior of Florida’s peninsula, the group toured 11 different locations and met with 22 agriculture and natural resource leaders, including members of Florida’s adult agriculture education group, the Wedgeworth Leadership Institute. Our group, traveling together in a large passenger van (complete with tricky locks), had many opportunities for team building and deepening our class bonds.

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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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Administrative updates

Accolades

Transitions

College updates

Academic Programs

Research updates

Extension updates

Events

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Also in this issue

Administrative updates

Accolades

Transitions

College updates

Academic Programs

Research updates

Extension updates

Events

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Posted in Past Issues | Leave a comment

Also in this issue

Administrative updates

Accolades

Transitions

College updates

Academic programs

Research updates

Extension updates

Events

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Posted in Past Issues | Leave a comment

Also in this issue

Administrative Updates

Accolades

Transitions

Academic Programs Updates

Research Updates

Extension Updates

Events

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Posted in Past Issues | Leave a comment