Monthly Archives: April 2012

What is the Virginia Farm Mentor Network?

What is the Virginia Farm Mentor Network, and how can it help you?

One of the major goals of the Virginia Farm Mentor Network is to bring established farmers together with folks just starting out in agriculture to discuss practices, trends, and opportunities necessary for success.  It’s a way to connect, capture skills and knowledge, and teach the next generation of agriculture what folks have been doing for years.  There is also a great opportunity to learn Improved/Best Management Practices from folks on the ground, as well as specialist in the field of agriculture.

For generations, the knowledge of agriculture was handed down by almost everyone in rural communities all across  America. It was part of the culture…part of the lifestyle.   Folks heard all about the ins and outs of farming at the local country store, at the post office, at church, at home….it was like you couldn’t get away from it.  Farming was the talk of the town.  I remember the old stories of my Granddad and his buddies.  They had many friendly farming wagers…who would get the crop in the ground the fastest, who brought the largest yield, which farmer got the best price at market, but now beginning farmers have to search for that type of information.  It is as if the teachings of agriculture and ‘the way of doing things’ have been lost.  Rural America and the culture of agriculture has seen its fair share of changes as more folks move to urban areas for ‘a better opportunity’.  The knowledge of everyday farming was often lost in the urban migration.  Skills and experiences were no longer past down from generation to generation.

Today, beginning farmers and ranchers are looking to alternate sources to learn about agriculture.  That is where projects like Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition Project come into the picture.  The project is filling a educational need that used to be part of the common lifestyle.

So, What is the Virginia Farm Mentor Network? 

The Virginia Farm Mentor Network facilitates the exchange of knowledge and skills of experienced farmers & ranchers with the beginning farmer & rancher community.  It also provides an opportunity for long-term working relationships for successful farming.

OK, well…what does that mean?… How does a network facilitate the exchange of  knowledge and skills between the farming communities?  How can the connection with a mentor lead to opportunities for long-term working relationships?

The Farm Mentor Network is a group open to all farmers in Virginia.  The goal of the network is to provide beginning & transitioning farmers an opportunity to get their hands dirty and to make  connections with other farmers that have been working in agriculture for several years.  The USDA defines a beginning farmer as anyone working in agriculture for 10 years or less.  Therefore, the established farmer is anyone successfully farming for more than 10 years.  The Virginia Farm Mentor Network works to connect new farmers with folks that have been doing it for a while.  Simply put, farmers have a lot to learn from other farmers!

The Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition Project offers Whole Farm Planning programming and education to beginning farmers.  It is one thing to learn about farming….it is often totally another thing to get out and actually FARM.  The Virginia Farm Mentor Network helps supplement the educational experience.  The ultimate goal of the network would be finding on-farm work experiences for beginning farmers & ranchers across Virginia.  Many established farmers are looking for good help with labor, marketing assistance, administrative organization, and/or outreach for the farm (etc.).  Many beginning farmers are looking for real work experiences.  This could be a perfect fit.  This is one way the network can begin to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and skills.

Not all established farmers are looking for help on the farm.  They may not be set up for employees/work situations, but  are interested in the Virginia Farm Mentor Network.  Many farmers want to share their story….their experience.  They want to participate in the Network.  As a Farm Mentor Coordinator, I’m working along with C.J. Isbell (Farm Mentor Coordinator — Central VA.) to capture the stories and experiences of established farmers.  Then we create ways to share the stories and experiences with beginning farmers & ranchers.

How do we capture/share stories and experiences?   

One way, is that C.J (working in central VA) and I (working in SWVA) go out on farm visits to build relationships with established farmers.  We want to get their history,  and take a look  where the operation is going today.  Gaining stories and experiences leads to case studies (Farmer Spotlights), which allows beginning farmers & ranchers to see themselves in other farmers.  It also begins to spark ideas on how to implement farming practices learned in the classroom.

After, the established farmer shows initial interests in participating in the Virginia Farm Mentor Network, we encourage them to attend meetings, open their farm to farm-tours and/or on-farm workdays.  We are creating events to share the on-farm experience with folks that are just starting out.  These are other examples of how we are working to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and skills.  The beginning farmer may not have their own land or if they do, they may not know what to do with it.  Everyone needs experience in their field.  It is much better to learn from someone that has been doing it for a while with some success compared to just going out and trying to learn it all on your own, which often leads to discouragement.

This is where the opportunity for long-term working relationships for successful farming comes into play.  Being a part of the  Virginia Farm Mentor Network opens the door for beginning farmers and ranchers to attend meetings and events with established farmers.  Folks get into a conversation and find they  have something in common…the next thing you know,  a Mentor-Mentee relationship has been formed.  The established farmer may  have work available.  If not, they may allow you to come to their farm for certain tasks, like planting, harvesting, livestock rotation day, etc.  They are not offering the beginning farmer a job, but an opportunity to learn.  Many beginning farmers take established farmers up on this opportunity while working on their own farm and/or other jobs.

Established farmers can also be available for emails or phone calls.  Often email works best, if everyone has the internet hook-up & email service.   Farmers are busy on the farm, but they can answer emails at night or early in the morning.  This arrangement can be convenient for everyone schedule.

In  many cases, we have established and beginning farmers contacting us looking for employees/interns or looking for a work experience and/or a mentor to work with.  This is another way this blog, Virginia Beginning Farmer Connections~ can get the conversation started.   All post regarding Help Wanted and Work Wanted are housed under Farmer/Mentoring/Internship Opportunities.

What is the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition Project looking for in a Mentor/Mentee?  We are looking for experience farmers and ranchers as well as beginning farmers and rancher with the following qualities:

— Convey Honest Realities             — Cooperation & Respect

— Strong Work Ethic                       — Mutual Trust of Mentor Network

— Land/Ag Stewardship                 —Desire to Educate/Train/Nurture

Do all mentors have to be farming for 10 years or more? 

Generally, yes.  But, we welcome peer-mentors.  Many beginning farmers can learn from each other.  In fact, you see farming groups/clubs in many communities.  Most of these groups consist of peer type of farmers.  There are also many farming operations out there that may only be 7-8 years old, but they are doing their job very well and have found great success.   We have a lot to learn from everyone in farming.  We welcome farmers of all types and experiences.  We welcome service providers and educators.  We welcome consultants.

Why would an established farmer serve as a mentor? 

To educate the next generation of agriculture!  To retain Agriculture as the #1 industry in Virginia.  To find someone to continue on their farming operation after retirement.  To keep farmland — farmland.  To prevent the ‘last harvest’ of urban sprawl.  There are many reasons that an established farmer would serve as a mentor.  Most of which include a desire to share an honest and realistic picture of the lifestyle of agriculture.

The established farmer has much to gain from the Virginia Farm Mentor Network.  They can gain new skills, improved practices/methods, discover a new energy for farming, and also find good long-term employees that may be interested in continuing the farm into the next generation.

How do we connect with farmers across Virginia? 

Virginia Beginning Farmers & Ranchers Project is a coalition effort.  The Coalition currently consists of 25 different organizations across Virginia representing Virginia Tech & Virginia State University, Virginia Cooperative Extension, the non-governmental sector, beginning & established farmers and local, state, and federal government.   The group continues to grow.  The Coalition is able to achieve much more than any one of these single organizations could do alone.  Working through the community-based participatory research approach, the coalition plays a part in every aspect of the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Project, including the Virginia Farm Mentor Network.  C.J. and I rely on the members of the coalition to assist in identifying established and beginning farmers and ranchers to work with.   The members of the coalition have connections in their local communities that would take years to build and establish…maybe even decades.  I’m truly grateful to be working with such a great team armed with extraordinary reach, strength in the agriculture community,  and a ‘from the ground up’ type of approach.

Visit the Coalition tab of the Virignia Beginning Farmer & Rancher website for more information and details on who is involved the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition, and how those organizations are also working to help beginning farmers and ranchers across Virginia.

Want more details? 

For more information on how to get involved with the Virginia Farm Mentor Network or if you have questions, feel free to “leave a reply” below or contact:

Kelli Scott at   or (540) 315-5884        (Southwest Virginia)

C.J. Isbell at or (540) 553-2278            (Central Virginia)

Check out the Virginia Farm Mentor Network Flyer below.

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April Beginning Farmer & Rancher Social was a huge success!!!

On Tuesday, April 17th, the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition Project hosted an April Beginning Farmer Social.  This was a great opportunity for established farmers, beginning farmers, service providers, and educators to come together for fun, networking, and education.  It was the kick off to a season full of Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition member events.  Stay posted to Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher News for all upcoming dates.

The evening promised to be full of beginning farmer fun.  I was full of anticipation as I arrived at the “Bluegrass Barn” a little early to get set up for the event.  I was met by Mr. Scott Sink, of Hethwood Market.  Scott and Hethwood Market represent beginning farmers as part of the Virginia Beginning Farmer Coalition.  I was thrilled to be working with Scott.  He really knows the area.  He grew up on a dairy in the Franklin County,  and now has several farms in the New River Valley, as well as Hethwood Market in Blacksburg.  Scott and one of his partners, Mr. McNeil,  had an ideal location for a beginning farmer social event.  The barn is a large, rectangle metal building that is a wonderful space to host a number of events….anything from educational sessions to weddings.  The venue is conveniently located off I-81, right outside of the of Radford.

After Scott and I made the initial plan, it was time to get the party set up.  We were joined by a number of Coalition members ready to set up informational booths.  Dr. Kim Niewolny, Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Project Director, arrived at the barn early with her family to lend a hand and support.  The team assembled.  It was great to have Kirk Ballin from Virginia AgrAbility, Sarah Burkett & Cora Gnegy from Virginia Cooperative Extension, Jason Aker from Farm Credit of the Virginias, and Rik Obiso from Attimo Winery.  They were all ready with their materials to get set up.  We were also joined by Mark Schonbeck of Virginia Association of Biological Farming, Ron Saacke from Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers, and Dr. Steve Hodges of Virginia Tech’s Department of Crop & Soil Environmental Sciences.  Virginia Beginning Farmers & Rancher project has found great strength, reach, and success in the ground-up type of initiative building the coalition effort.   Many great successful collaborations have been formed through the community-based participatory research approach of the coalition.  We could not do this without the help of our team!

Folks start to arrive just a little before 6pm.  I enjoyed meeing everyone as the came in.  We welcomed folks and the evening stating off with a great meal catered by Hethwood Market.  The local pulled pork BBQ was fresh and hot right off of Mr. Scott Sink’s grill.  He had a great spread.  Good food is always the best ice breaker to get folks moving around the room and talking.  Everyone really enjoyed the meal.  What a wonderful opportunity to network with other farmers from all around southwest Virginia!  Folks traveled in from as far as Abingdon, representing all types of agriculture from livestock to wineries and everything in between.   We hosted 40 participants— the perfect number.

Dr. Allen Straw, Virginia Cooperative Extension Specialist (veggies, fruits, and specialty crops) based out of the AREC in Glade Springs, VA was our guest speaker.  I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Straw speak at an Appalachian Sustainable Development production meeting in Duffield this past winter.  I’m a great fan of Dr. Straw and his work.  I approached him in Duffield to ask if he could join us for the event in Radford, and I was ecstatic when his scheduled presented an open date.

‘Doc’ Straw talk to the group about market trends and opportunities for beginning farmers.  He works with farmers in all  stages of the game.  He works with big boys that are selling truckloads of wholesale product to distributors and warehouses, as well as mid-small range farmers selling direct. He is full of information, and has helped a number of farmers find their niche.  Thanks so much to Dr. Straw for traveling in for the event!

The first Beginning Farmer Social event was a success.  We are developing a schedule and will share future events with you soon.

Keep posted to our webpage and Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher’s Facebook page for updates. 

Please let us know of topics you would like to learn more about and possible locations  you would like to see future Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher events.  Feel free to reply to this post below.

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Want to learn more about Farm Tax Issues? Rural Tax Education Presents:


Starting at 2pm, you can follow FARM INCOME TAX ISSUES, Part 1-3. The webinar
is scheduled to end at 5pm. You can view Parts 1, 2, & 3 separately.

Visit the Rural  page, look to the right side of the page for all webinar details.  

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On-Farm Twilight Veggie Growers Meetings — 4 dates & locations in Northern VA

This is a great opportunity for beginning farmers to visit farms in Northern VA, network with other farmers, and learn more about vegetable production practices. How are farmers finding success? What works? What doesn’t work? Learn from farmers with hands on experience!

On-Farm Twilight Veggie Growers Meetings
—May 22nd – Berry Simple Farm – Rick Crofford

—June 19th – Waterpenny Farm – Rachel Bynum and Eric Plaksin(VABF members, organic CSA)

—July 10th – Evergreen Acres – Jim Gehlsen (Organic vegetables, some no-till)

—August 14th – Fauquier Education Farm

Virginia Cooperative Extension invites you to attend a series of on farm vegetable growers meetings scheduled from May through August. These meetings will be held at local farms in the area; a schedule of meetings is listed above.

We will meet at the host site at 6 pm for a tour of the farm, followed by a discussion of timely management practices. Virginia Cooperative Extension specialists will be available to address specific production topics and to examine foliage and insect samples from your farm. Light refreshments will be served.
Please RSVP to the Fauquier County Master Gardener help desk @ 540.341.7950 ext 219# or to

There is no fee for attending.
Special Thanks to the following for organizing these events~
Extension Agents:   Tim Ohlwiler (Horticulture), Jim Hankins (Small Farm Outreach), and Kenner Love (Crops and Soils).

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Internship Opportunity at Weathertop Farm in Check, VA

Overview:  Weathertop Farm is a small 67-acre family farm dedicated to holistic sustainable agriculture.  Our farm is located in scenic Floyd County, VA, just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway with all it’s recreational opportunities, and only 14 miles from the town of Floyd, renowned for it’s thriving artist, music, and local food scene.

Weathertop Farm accepts 1 or 2 interns each year for the duration of our May -November season.  We’re looking for folks interested and passionate about preserving sustainable agriculture systems within our local food-shed communities.  Interns must be ready to work hard doing manual labor in all kinds of weather.  Basic housing is provided along with whatever food is grown here on the farm and group farm lunches will be regular fare.

A monthly stipend of $400 per person will be provided.  We expect interns to put in approximately 40 hours a week on average, most work is done from 7-12 Mon-Sat as well as afternoons and all processing days.  You can expect to work alongside the farmer for some tasks and independently for others. Opportunities are available for those with initiative to make some money from projects of their own.  Some examples might be: growing some extra chickens, trying out a heritage breed of turkey or growing vegetables for market.

What we expect of you:
We do not require that you have any prior farming experience,  but these are qualities we’re looking for:
-a positive attitude
-willingness to try new things
-personal initiative
-cooperation for working with others
-ability to follow directions
-ability to do manual labor & lift 50lb sacks
-good people-person comfortable in a sales setting interacting with customers.
-ability to work with children

We have 5 kids ranging in ages from 9-16, and we need you to be able to work well alongside them when they’re around.  We also have extended family and friends living nearby and frequently visiting and helping out.  We care a great deal about our farm community and try to keep our environment clean and healthy on all levels.

So we ask all interns to commit to no smoking, no drugs and no drama.

We give preference to someone who can commit to the whole time from mid-May through November up until Thanksgiving.

Work will include but is not limited to:
-Caring for laying hens: feeding & watering, collecting and carrying eggs (multiple times a   day).
-Cleaning eggs: sorting, washing, packing (daily) and delivery (2-3 x/week)
-Assisting with moving fences and hen houses (weekly)
-Caring for broiler chickens: moving and servicing pens (twice a day)
-Brooder care: caring for chicks in the brooder(twice a day), transferring out to the field (once a month).
-Pigs: feed and water(twice a day), fence maintenance,  moving pasture, cleaning out portable house (occasionally)
-Rabbits: scything grass, feed and water twice a day.
-Hauling 50-lb feed bags in and out of truck/barn and distributing to animals as needed.
as well as other small animal care…

We do a lot of small construction projects around the farm, so if you have some carpentry skills that’s a plus but not required.

Processing: we butcher chickens on a 5 week rotating schedule, usually on Tues, Thurs & Sat every 5 weeks from May-Oct.  This is a long day of set-up, cleaning, butchering, lots more cleaning, and in the afternoon assisting with sales & customers on top of everyday chores.  Thanksgiving time also means several more days of processing turkeys, both in October and November.  Although these days do tend to have a fun communal side to them, they are an essential part of our farming operation and are a mandatory part of the internship, your attendance is required and non-negotiable.

Farmers Market: Saturdays start around 5am and involve packing coolers and vehicle, driving to Blacksburg (50 minute drive) setting up, interacting with customers &sales from 8-2, break down, drive home, unpack.

Other work: composting, mowing, fence set-up and moving, plenty of garden work, cleaning out bedding from brooder& hoop-houses, driving to mill for feed pick-up and unloading, cutting firewood, and other miscellaneous work.

Whatyou can expect from us:
This can be a great learning opportunity for someone interested in this kind of pasture-based farming.  It does require initiative and dedication on your part, but there is ample opportunity to learn about raising these animals first-hand, how a pasture-based system operates, and what the daily work is like on a farm. You can expect a lot of time from us for conversations about farming and related issues, and ample opportunity to ask whatever
questions you have.  Through this experience you can gain an understanding of the daily ups and downs and ins and outs of a farming season, and because of the diverse range of tasks we require help with (raising animals, butchering, sales & marketing) we hope you would gain an understanding of how the diverse operations of our farm are integrated into one business and function as a whole.

Housing: very old rustic farmhouse, furnished with basic amenities. House has some electricity and basic bath & kitchen facilities, including composting toilet.  You may use the laundry & internet at the main house.

Meals: We welcome interns to join us for lunch daily, and sometimes for dinner, too, other meals you will be responsible for yourself.  You will have access to food that is grown on the farm (meat, eggs, veggies).

Lunch will regularly include informal meetings to discuss upcoming tasks, projects and plans, as well as give and take of feedback between us on what we’ve all been doing.

Stipend of $400/month.

Sundays off, some Saturdays and afternoons off, too

Opportunities for education:
-access to our farm books along with some recommended reading assignments.
-Opportunity to learn poultry processing as well as marketing and sales
-chance to try a project on your own while you have access to farm equipment,
land, animal housing, markets and advice.
-chance to use space in our garden to grown something for yourself and/or for
-chances to visit/work with other farms and alternative food systems in Floyd
and see what they are doing

Opportunities for recreation & entertainment:
-Meet other interns in Floyd so you can socialize & network with them
-The nearby town of Floyd has a great food, music & arts scene going on.
-Proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway offers lots of chances for hiking & camping.
-Nearby Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech, is a great college town with lots going on.

Application process:
Please read through all relevant information here as well as on our website so you are familiar with our farm.

In addition to the written application, in almost all cases we will require an in-person visit, (which could be an overnight or weekend stay) so we can get a feel for one another.

Cedric & Sarah Shannon, Weathertop Farm LLC

963 Eanes Rd. NE Check, VA 24072

Phone: (540) 651-2010



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A day trip around farms of Floyd County

Photos from the day

I-81 has been my best friend over the past several months!  I’m getting to know all the towns from Roanoke to Bristol…hitting all the high peaks and low valleys in between.  The many, necessary road miles is a working effort to get out and connect with folks in Virginia agriculture.  It’s been great to travel all around SWVA to visit farmers, farms, and service providers.

It was an extreme pleasure to be invited to a farm tour in my own neck of the woods, Floyd County.  The day trip,  arranged by Jenny Schwanke of Hale Y Gardens in Blacksburg, included five stops.  And I didn’t have to leave the county.   The tour was a field-trip planned for Concepts in Community Food Systems (ALS 4204).  A course offered in the Civic Agriculture and Food Systems Minor from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at VT, which Jenny serves as a community partner.  The five stops covered many sects of the food system, from vegetable-livestock production to the final farm product on a store self or on a local restaurant’s lunch plate.

The tour started in Check at Seven Spring Farm, owned and operated by Ron Juftes and Polly Hieser.  Polly is in charge of the growing and the  CSA, Community Supported Agriculture project. She welcomed us, and we toured through her newly plowed field plots.  Some plots were still covered in hairy vetch, clover, and a mix of other winter cover crops.  Seven Springs consists of 111 acres of rolling pasture and wooded areas, 4-5 of which are in organic vegetable production.  The farm has been in production since 1990, and supports up to 110 shares during the growing season.  If you are not familiar, a share is your portion of the “agriculture” or farm products.  It depends on what type of CSA you subscribe to.  A person purchases products at the beginning of the season; they invest in a share of the farm.  Most often, with vegetable CSAs, a share
equals a set number of vegetables each week.  The share is also often referred to as the ‘veggie box’.  Polly has worked hard to make the shares at Seven Springs accessible to folks at all levels.   The farm serves persons/families of Floyd, Blacksburg, and Roanoke.

The second side to Seven Springs is the Organic Farming & Garden Supply store, which supplies many farmers in the area with the fertilizers, amendments, and sprays they need for production.  The supply house also works from a website to fill online/mail orders.  So, it is a busy time around Seven Springs.  You can check them out and learn more at:

OK, we got our veggies down, now let’s go see some protein production.  Weathertop Farm is not a stone’s throw from Seven Springs.  We traveled down a dirt road, and then we saw the rustic Weathertop Farm sign.  As we approached, we were greeted by two friendly dogs.  Then hobbled out Cedric Shannon, who was recently injured coaching the Floyd girls soccer team…one of his many projects.  Sarah quickly followed him out and gave us a little history on the farm and their family.   They are a lovely couple that produce sustainably raised pastured chickens, rabbits, pigs, turkeys, and eggs.  They sell their products through many local CSAs and direct markets.  The farm consists of 65 acres.  They have been working the land for the past nine years, since 2003.  It is great to see the chickens out eating grasses & bugs in the pasture.  The Shannon’s rotate the chickens around the pasture and also use chicken tractors.  It was the appropriate season to see beautiful, healthy bunnies, but these were not Easter pets…these were good ole’ meat rabbits.  You see rabbit in so many upscale-gourmet restaurants these days.  The market really seems to be growing. The group of us learned a lot about livestock rules and regulations in our discussion with Cedric and Sarah, and all they do to comply with current regulations.  We also learned about the Shannon’s mentors.  The folks they looked to locally and within Virginia for support and help with the ever evolving life of agriculture.

Weathertop is looking for interns for this season.  Check out the  Farmer/Mentoring/Internship Opportunities at the top of the page.  I’m going back to visit the Shannon’s soon.  Stay tuned for a follow-up report.  More info on Weathertop Farm can be found at

Our next stop took us closer to the town of Floyd, and to a lady that everyone in the
circle of agriculture knows around Floyd county and the surrounding area.  We went to Green’s Garage to visit Tenley Weaver from Good Food, Good People, another successful CSA in Floyd.  Tenley and her husband, Dennis Dove also own Full Circle Farm, a organic/sustainable vegetable production operation.  Full Circle Farm is one of the many suppliers to Good Food, Good People (which in many ways could be described as a growers collaborative).  Tenley had an ag background when she moved to Floyd.  She worked and learned all she could from Polly & Ron at Seven Springs and saw room for an expanding market.  With the good graces and blessings from Polly & Ron, GFGP was born.  The collaborative was founded in 1996 and stated with only 3 growers.  Today, GFGP works with over 50 producers (30 of which are produce growers) to supply Floyd, Blacksburg, and Roanoke with local meats, eggs, value-added farm products, and fruits &
veggies.  It’s really amazing what they have done.  GFGP not only has the CSA share program, but they also sell local farm products at 5 local farmers markets.  They have even teamed up with Homestead Creamery for a milk/veggie share.
The email list for 2012 is up to 900 names long.  Starting in 2013, GFGP will offer their first winter share, which allows persons to purchase farm products all year long… also gives farmers a market to sell their products all year long!    To learn more about GFGP check out,

By now, we had all worked up quite an appetite.  It was scheduled that we would all meet  in town at Natasha’s, a local restaurant featuring local farm to plate ingredients.  Natasha’s prides it’s self in providing their patrons with a menu of at least 75% local, sustainably raised products.  The menu changes with the season…but it’s always YUM, YUM, Good!  It was such a gorgeous day for the tour.  Natasha’s is an open space, full of bright-natural light.  There are large windows, where you can view the quaint town of Floyd and the beautiful surrounding mountains from every angle.  The restaurant also hosts an art gallery where you can pick up some local pottery, glass, art.

Natasha took a break from the kitchen to come out to talked to us about how she  purchases local products used in the restaurant, and how she has built  a relationship with suppliers and farmers all across the area.  Mike Burton from SustainFloyd joined us for lunch, and gave us an overview of the efforts of the NPO.  SustainFloyd is working really hard to open up markets, create/improve agriculture infrastructure, and increase profitability for farmers .  Our order came, and we all ate and chatted about the happenings-interesting things in life.  For more info on Natasha’s check out their
webpage at   For more info on SustainFloyd go to,

After lunch, we were all full from the wonderful food at Natasha’s,  so it was a great time to talk about folks in need.  Our final visit of the day was to the Floyd Community Garden and Plenty headquarters.  Plenty is an organization that helps to provide people in need with food, materials, and caring.  Karen Day and McCabe Coolidge are committed to improve individual lives & the community, as a whole.   We have a lot to learn from Karen and McCabe.  You can find them at

This was a day to remember for a long time to come.  I was able to make contacts, that will assist us with the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition Project and the Farm Mentor Network.  I also got to get my boots dirty, learn more about local food systems,  and see agriculture at work….that’s what I love to do best!

Stay tuned for my next farm adventure, and keep some dirt under those fingernails~

If you would like for me to come visit your farm and share your story, please
contact me (Kelli) at






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Farmers Market Promotion Program Grants Available

From the USDA Office of Communications. Release No. 0117.12

Contact Gwen Sparks, (202)260-8210

Farmers Market Promotion Program Grants Available

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2012 — Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking grant applicants for the 2012 Farmers Market Promotion Program.

Approximately $10 million is available for marketing operations such as farmers markets, community supported agriculture and road-side stands. The grants, which are administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), are available through a competitive application process on The grants aim to increase the availability of local agricultural products in communities throughout the county. They will  also help strengthen farmer-to-consumer marketing efforts.

“These grants will put resources into rural and urban economies, and help strengthen efforts to provide access to nutritious and affordable foods,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. “This program not only supports the health and well-being of local communities but also the economic health of their farms and businesses.”

Projects that expand healthy food choices in food deserts or low-income areas (where the percentage of the population living in poverty is 20% or above) will receive additional consideration. USDA, in coordination with the Departments of the Treasury and Health and Human Services, seeks to increase access to fresh, healthy and affordable food choices for all Americans, while expanding market opportunities for farmers and ranchers.

Information on applying for a Farmers Market Promotion Program grant will be published in the April 6, 2012 Federal Register and available online at Applications will ONLY be accepted via and must be received by May 21, 2012. Applications that are incomplete, hand-delivered, or sent via U.S. mail will not be considered. Applicants should start the registration process as soon as possible to meet the deadline.

Contact Carmen Humphrey, Program Manager, by phone: (202) 720-8317, or email: for more information.

Authorized by the Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Act of 1976 and amended by the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the Farm Bill), the Farmers Market Promotion Program is the seventh year of funding direct markets that benefit local and regional economies.

The Farmers Market Promotion Program is part of USDA’s commitment to support local and regional communities. These investments are highlighted in USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF) Compass. KYF Compass is a digital guide to USDA resources related to local and regional food systems. The Compass consists of an interactive U.S. map showing local and regional food projects and an accompanying narrative documenting the results of this work through case studies, photos and video content.

A large selection of USDA-support programs and projects is also visible on the KYF Map, which can be displayed by theme, program, or recipient type. Both the KYP Compass and map will be regularly refreshed with new data and case studies.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

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Beginning Farmer Social — Radford, VA — April 17th

Tuesday, April 17th 2012, the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition will host a FREE “beginning farmer social” in Radford, VA. 

This event is ideal for beginning farmers and established producers!

Time 6pm – 8pm

When: Tuesday, Apirl 17, 2012

Where:  7800 Little River Dam Rd. Radford, VA 24141                                                                                                          (Just 2.7 Miles off *-81, Exit 105)

     Our purpose for getting together:

  • Learn how to get involved in farmer-farmer mentoring.
  • Dr. Allen Straw, Virginia Cooperative Extension Specialist, will share vegetable crop and small fruit updates for the  spring growing season.
  • Beginning farmer networking and good times!

 The setting for this event could not be more appropriate, surrounded by beautiful rolling green pastures in the Radford area!

The location and local  pulled pork BBQ, with all the fixins’, provided by Scott Sink, farmer and owner/operator of Hethwood Market  located in Blacksburg, VA. 

Veggie options will also be available.  Food will be available starting at 6 pm. 

For more information/Directions, Contact:                                                          Kelli Scott at or  (540) 315-5884. 

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