On July 25, 2018, the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition partners and friends gathered again at the Virginia State University Randolph Farm in Petersburg, VA. This year’s meeting included a farmer panel and breakout sessions addressing critical issues facing beginning farmers and ranchers across the state.
The gathering began with a welcome from the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition and the Virginia State University Small Farm Outreach Program (VSU SFOP) teams. The VSU SFOP team is about to complete their first year of the Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program grant and was very excited to share their first year’s progress.
Following the introductions, a group of seven mentor and mentee farmers who are involved in the VSU programming joined us for a panel discussion on the mentoring experiences. The farmers were asked to describe their farm businesses; tell us how mentoring (either as a mentor or mentee) has helped them grow and succeed; and share stories that are meaningful to them from their time as mentors and mentees. Farmers on the panel included Albert McGhee, Herbert Brown, Mark Chandler, Natasha Hatton, Phil Rudd, and Thomas and Anita Roberson.
After the farmer panel, Jim Hankins, executive director of the Fauquier Education Farm in Warrenton, VA shared some highlights from the farm’s past year, including how over 60,000 lbs of food was grown and distributed in 2017! Allyssa Mark also spoke about the program evaluations that have been completed so far in 2018.
After lunch, participants split into several breakout sessions to discuss various topics relevant to beginning farmers across the state. These groups included women in agriculture; farm safety, health, and wellness; land access; access to markets; and veteran farmers. These groups had already been formed and meeting via phone conference, so we were excited to be able to come together in person, as well as bring in new, interested individuals. These teams ended their time together with action plans to guide their work moving forward, and they will be meeting by phone again soon.
This year’s gathering ended with a tour of the Randolph Farm. Participants rode in a tented trailer to visit the farm’s fields and greenhouses