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VALOR graduates inaugural class

The inaugural class of the Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results program graduated from the two-year fellowship on July 19 at the Hotel Roanoke.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ 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.

VALOR graduates

VALOR graduates

A proclamation from Governor Terry McAuliffe recognizing the event was read during the ceremony’s greetings to program fellows, special guests and families, and, advisory council members. In attendance were the Commissioner of Agriculture Sandy Adams, and keynote speaker Matt Rush, a fourth generation farmer and rancher from New Mexico, among other agriculture industry stakeholders.

During the graduation ceremony Advisory Council members were recognized for their service and contribution to the inaugural program. Stan Brantley, formerly president of Amadas Industries — a world leader in peanut harvesting technology — was posthumously recognized for his service as a member.

Prior to the graduation ceremony, the inaugural cohort had one final session in servant leadership at Feeding America Southwest Virginia in Salem where fellows sorted pallets of food and other items for repacking and distribution, assembled crates, and also gave a monetary donation.

Graduates received certificates of achievement and program lapel pins. Personal best leadership projects were featured from the graduates in the ceremony program, and highlighted independent projects they have been planning and executing throughout the last year.

“It is hard to believe that two years has come to a close with this inaugural class,” said Megan Seibel, director of the VALOR program. “I have been honored to see the ideas that were developed put into practice as we travelled and learned together. VALOR is in a very exciting position as these men and women begin our alumni legacy and we prepare to welcome the second group of fellows.”

Over the span of the last two years, VALOR fellows participated in 12 seminars that took them across the commonwealth and the globe to Argentina where they were greeted by myriad representatives of the agricultural sector including cattle ranchers, oyster harvesters, Christmas tree farmers, berry growers, national grocery store chains, and farm credit agencies to name a few. Seminars gave VALOR fellows an up-close look at food production and distribution in both urban and rural settings taking them to urban hubs in Northern Virginia and rural farmlands.

Inaugural VALOR fellows include:

  • Roger Elkins of Jonesville, Virginia
  • Dana Fisher of New Market, Virginia
  • Benjamin Grove of Blacksburg, Virginia
  • Ian Heatwole of Weyers Cave, Virginia
  • Matt Hickey of Staunton, Virginia
  • CJ Isbell of Rockville, Virginia
  • Teresa Lindberg of Jarratt, Virginia
  • Hunter Richardson of Shacklesford, Virginia
  • Kenna Ryan of Edinburg, Virginia
  • Andrew Smith of Beaverdam, Virginia
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VALOR Class II fellows selected for leadership program

Over the course of the summer 2014, interviews were conducted with identified applicants on three days at Virginia State University, Virginia Tech, and the Farm Credit of the Virginias office in Staunton. Members of the VALOR Advisory Council and a representative of the inaugural class served as the selection committee.

Fourteen individuals have been offered fellowship positions in Class II and represent a diverse group of those supporting agricultural industry.

It is with excitement that the following individuals are announced:

  • Marilyn Adams of Purcellville, Virginia; branch manager with Farm Credit of the Virginias
  • Lauren Arbogast of Harrisonburg, Virginia; Extension program coordinator, community viability
  • Melvin Atkinson of Windsor, Virginia; director of Airfield 4-H Center with Virginia Cooperative Extension
  • Kevin Beamer of Hillsville, Virginia; CEO of Virginia Produce Company
  • Shelley Barlow of Suffolk, Virginia; vice president of Cotton Plains Farm
  • Timothy Durham of Callaway, Virginia; assistant professor of agronomy and agricultural science program coordinator at Ferrum College
  • M. James Faison of Richmond, Virginia; president of Milton’s Local Harvest
  • Basil Gooden of Henrico, Virginia; director of Virginia Rural Development with USDA
  • Jennifer Leech of Lexington, Virginia; dairy farmer with Ingleside Dairy Farm
  • Albert Reid of Petersburg, Virginia; 4-H specialist and aquaculture agent at Virginia State University
  • Adam Shiflett of Harrisonburg, Virginia; lending team leader with Farm Credit of the Virginias
  • Josh Stephens of Quicksburg, Virginia; general manager with Southern States Cooperative
  • Joe Wilkerson of South Boston, Virginia; owner of Southside Nursery and Landscape
  • Cliff Williamson of Culpeper, Virginia; animal export consultant with TK Exports

“The group of fellows selected for the second VALOR class is a very exciting and talented group. They represent a diverse perspective about agriculture, how it is defined, and how it is relevant and essential. Leadership development with these men and women in this context will be rewarding for everyone and I look forward to what they have to offer each other and the program as we network and travel,” Director Megan Seibel said.

VALOR Class II fellows will convene in Blacksburg Sept. 5-7 for the first of 12 seminars over two years, which will include meetings around the Commonwealth, in Richmond and Washington D.C., a regional location, and an international session, the location of which will be determined by the fellows themselves.

For more information about the VALOR program, please visit our website and blog, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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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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VALOR: International Study Seminar in Argentina truly a capstone event for inaugural class

Leaving directly from the Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade in Richmond on March 7, VALOR inaugural fellows fulfilled a mission of studying international agriculture as part of their curriculum with a two-week tour of Argentina.

VALOR group, Buenos Aires

Numerous cities and provinces were visited by land and by air, and families and individuals greeted fellows with traditional hospitality, food, and drink in their homes and places of business. The cities of Buenos Aires, Melincúe (Santa Fe), General Deheza (Córdoba), Mercedes (San Luis), Mendoza, El Calafate (Santa Cruz), and Iquazú (Misiones) all had something different to offer as we traveled all directions throughout the country. Agricultural manufacturing, processing, research and development, crop production, livestock breeding and genetics, economics, governmental regulation, and education were all addressed along the way. Five in-country flights and thousands of kilometers on buses allowed fellows to travel to areas ranging from the lush and humid sub-tropical to glacier steppes receiving almost no annual rainfall.

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Applications invited for second cohort of fellows for VALOR program

The Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results (VALOR) program has opened the application process for its second cohort of fellows this fall. Applications for the program are due March 30.

The VALOR Program is designed to develop leaders who can effectively engage all members 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.

“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,” said Megan Seibel, the program’s director.

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VALOR Explores Southside with a focus on team building and collaboration

Professional development and personal growth were the focus of VALOR Seminar IX held in Gretna and Chatham, Va. Day one of the four-day seminar was led by the Director of Training and Development for American Farm Bureau, Jill Casten. Using the Thomas-Killmann Conflict Mode Instrument, Casten helped VALOR fellows understand their preferred modes of conflict resolution and provided opportunities for the application of these modes using real-life scenarios.

On day two, the fellows were hosted by Fred Wydner, Pittsylvania County Agriculture Commissioner and Robert Mills, farmer and Virginia Farm Bureau Board member at the Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex. Starting with an innovative group of agricultural visionaries in the region, this complex now exists because of regional collaboration that includes partners from government, industry, and non-profit sectors. The collaborative project has served as an economic development tool for the region and has elevated the profile of agricultural industry in the region.

The VALOR fellows also heard about the Rural Horseshoe Initiative, an effort to reframe workforce development in the Commonwealth through a network of 14 community colleges in the Virginia’s rural crescent. Chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, Glenn DuBois, and Curry Roberts of HF Consulting candidly discussed the role of post-secondary education and skill-based certification in securing our future. The goal of this public-private partnership is to ensure a college graduate in every Virginia home by 2025 because, as the Chancellor explained, “two out of every three jobs in Virginia will require more than a high school degree by the year 2020.”

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From coalfields to Christmas trees: VALOR explores the southwest

The inaugural class of VALOR recently held its eighth of 12 seminars in Southwest Virginia, with content centered on an exploration of agricultural issues in that region. Fellows heard presentations from faculty members Alex White and Richard Crowder on the Virginia Tech campus during the first session. As the former chief negotiator for agricultural trade with ambassadorial status, Crowder shared that the globalization of agriculture will bring about change in the industry that is unprecedented and as a result that agriculture will change more in the next 25 years then it did in the previous 50. White spoke about contemporary and complicating issues facing ag business.

VALOR Fellows visit with Matthew Phipps of Bottomley Evergreens, an operation that harvests and ships Christmas trees in Grayson County, Va.

VALOR fellows visit with Matthew Phipps of Bottomley Evergreens, an operation that harvests and ships Christmas trees in Grayson County, Va.

The highlight of day one was a reception hosted by the Farm Credit of the Virginias Board of Directors to commemorate a pledge of $120,000 to establish the Farm Credit of the Virginias VALOR Excellence Fund.

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VALOR US Regional Study Seminar a success

The long-anticipated U.S. Regional Study Seminar for VALOR went off without a hitch in late September. Even the weather could not have been more perfect, as our warm and sunny week was sandwiched between two wet and stormy ones in the upper Midwest. Fellow adult agricultural leadership program directors from Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan helped coordinate tour stops, learning opportunities, meals, and networking in their states in order to make this seminar valuable to our VALOR inaugural class.

The group gathered in Lexington, Va. and headed west. The first destination was the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis for a tour of the Glass Barn educational facility that had just opened to the public in August. Sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance, Indiana Corn Marketing Council, and the Indiana Corn Growers Association, this fantastic hands-on facility offers a look at production agriculture in Indiana through the eyes of three farm families and the companies they support. The Glass Barn represents both the need and desire for agriculture to be transparent in their dealings with public consumers, and this venue is a sure step in that direction.  We enjoyed a lovely meal with the Indiana AgriInstitute’s program director to learn of their adult ag leadership programming structure and success. Program graduates opened their homes to our group  for the night and gave us the opportunity to gain perspective from each family’s professional role in agriculture.

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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 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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