Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program Begins Planning this Year’s Classes

With whole farm planning programs beginning to take shape for this coming winter, we wanted to feature a post about another wonderful program for beginning farmers and ranchers in Virginia. This post was contributed by Jim Hankins with the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program:

One of the most rewarding parts of our on-going work with new farmers in the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program are those frequent moments when all we have to do is step back and let new farmers learn from one another. Each year we have attracted a group of very smart people who have come to the classes with a wealth of experience and knowledge. That knowledge base may not be in agriculture but running a business, dealing with employees and taxes, marketing and research – all skill sets that are necessary to launching a new farming career. The new farmer who will speak up in class and share genuine real world experience is the best educational tool any teacher could hope for.

This farmer to farmer learning does not stop once the Beginning Farmer classes have stopped. The Northern Piedmont program has been serving our region for several years now and so there are several “generations” of prior year’s students who are showing up at workshops and Extension events. This summer at one workshop at the Fauquier Education Farm there individuals from four different sessions of the Northern Piedmont program in attendance. Again the reward happens once I’ve made an introduction and can just step back and see the excitement build as these new farmers share their experience with each other. And believe me, they are not shy about sharing! The value of introducing an aspiring new berry farmer to the gentleman from a previous session of the same program who is several steps ahead and already has 1500 blueberries bushes planted is much richer than anything I could put into a PowerPoint presentation. I have had the good fortune of seeing this happen many times.

We have even had the pleasure of seeing new farmers from the Northern Piedmont program move on and formally become part of our learning process. Chris Pearson signed up for the course years ago to become better informed about how to generate some income off of his land. Chris is also a CPA in Culpeper and has returned each year since he took the course to give a presentation as part of our Whole Farm Business Management and Planning module. His voice as a new farmer and an excellent CPA really gets our students attention and his contribution to the program is huge. John Fant also took the Northern Piedmont program years ago and has since then moved to SW Virginia. However, John has continued to take great interest in the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition and now serves on the Advisory Board for the Coalition. His contributions as a new farmer and veteran will help see our Coalition grow stronger into the future.

The planning has begun for next year’s newest class of the Northern Piedmont program and we look forward to meeting that new group of excited new farmers. We take the course very seriously and put a good deal of effort into presenting valuable information. However, we know that any time you put 25 aspiring farmers together for several weeks that there will be all of that unplanned learning going on as well, and it is a process that will continue for years to come. As I write this I know I will be going to one of our Twilight Veggies Tours this evening in Madison Co. There will be farmers talking to farmers and freely sharing information and excitement. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be part of.

Beginning Farmer Logo      VCE Logo      Fauquier Educaiton Farm Logo


Fauquier Education Farm Website:

Program Contacts:

Jim Hankins
Fauquier Education Farm, VSU Small Farm Outreach Program

Ray Pickering
Fauquier County Ag Development Office

Post Contributed By: Jim Hankins

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Virginia Certified Farm Seekers Program Provides Farming Opportunities to New & Beginning Farmers


Agriculture remains a diverse and challenging industry, and farmers exist at many different experience levels.  Farming is an occupation that is asset heavy – land, equipment, buildings, machinery, livestock – and all of those assets are expensive. A mid-size farm can run up to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Some farmers are making a living on thirty acres or fewer.  But if a would-be farmer really wants a farm with all the acreage, barns, sheds, tractors, planters, sprayers, combines and harvesters, what are they to do?

With the average age of farmers approaching 60, Virginia is experiencing a rapidly increasing demand for quality land transitions. All across the commonwealth, a large number of farmers are facing retirement without a next generation family member to take over their life’s work. Luckily for the future of agriculture, there is an up-and-coming dedicated generation of young and beginning farmers eager for opportunities.  In recent years, a partnership between the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition, Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Farmland Preservation, led to the creation of the Virginia Farm Link Certified Farm Seeker (CFS) program. The CFS program is designed to provide individuals seeking farming opportunities with the tools needed to successfully demonstrate their farming commitment and vision to interested landowners.

Agriculture is a business; in fact, it is Virginia’s largest industry. And like any other business, would-be farmers need a sound business plan as a first step on the road to their goal of farm ownership. The CFS Program is designed around helping interested farmers produce a business plan and resume, as well as demonstrate on-farm experience. Five modules are available as resources to assist in accomplishing these goals: Introduction to Whole Farm Planning, Business Management, Land Acquisition and Tenure, Marketing, and On-Farm Experience.  Each module contains objectives, questions and possible activities to help beginning farmers reach their goals.  This is NOT a course to teach people how to farm, but is designed for all farmers, including beginning, transitioning, and established.  It is a self-guided program that strives to provide individuals seeking farming opportunities with the tools needed to successfully demonstrate their farming commitment and vision to interested landowners.

CFS provides significant advantages to farmers looking for land by giving them a leg up on the competition. CFS helps produce successful transitions by providing landowners with quality farm seekers who are serious about farming and have established clear goals and plans. To prepare for talks with owners, certified farm seekers are required to develop a professional business plan and resume and demonstrate on-farm experience.

va farm link

Certified farm seekers will receive landowner matching assistance/facilitation and elevation on the Virginia Farm Link database.  The Virginia Farm Link is an online database designed to bring those landowners interested in passing land on to the next generation together with those interested in gaining access to farmland and farming operations in Virginia.  Currently the Virginia Farm Link website is being revised with a new, easier-to-use version expected to be available before 2016. Those who are “certified” will receive special designation in the database, thereby increasing their chances of being contacted by a landowner.  Other incentives include a one-time professional business plan review, social/networking opportunities with other farmers/landowners, and possibly cost-share in time with a transition mediator or attorney.

Even if you are an established farmer and not actively seeking land, CFS offers benefits for everyone. CFS is designed for farmers of all experience levels, and  those who complete the program also receive $500 cost-share towards a farm planning tool, a professional business plan review, and numerous networking and social opportunities.  There are currently 15 certified farm seekers and over 75 farm seekers working through the application process.  The current list of certified farm seekers is posted on the VDACS website and displays those farmers who have completed the program and are the first recommendations to landowners looking for a farm transition.

The Certified Farm Seeker Program is a partnership between Virginia Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, made possible by the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project through Virginia Tech and revenue generated from the Virginia Agriculture specialty license plate.

VDACS, young farmers


Program Contacts:

Mrs. Katie Myer
Certified Farm Seeker Coordinator
(804) 357-6303

Mr. Ron Saacke
Virginia Farm Bureau
Young Farmers
(804) 514-4202

Mr. Andy Sorrell
Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Office of Farmland Preservation
(804) 786-1906

Post Contributed By: Andy Sorrell, Office of Farmland Preservation Coordinator with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS); Katie Myer, Certified Farm Seeker Coordinator

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