The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech and the School of Agriculture at Virginia State University are strongly committed to the SARE Professional Development Program. Virginia Tech and Virginia State University through Virginia Cooperative Extension, along with community and organizational partners, continue to host and sponsor professional development workshops and programs each year. These workshops and programs help build interest and strengthen the implementation of sustainable methods and practices across Virginia, especially in the areas of ecological soil management, cover cropping, community food systems, grassland agriculture, and overall market diversification for meat, milk, vegetable and fruit producers. There continues to be strong consumer interest in how food is produced and where food comes from. Additionally, there is more interest in community, local and regional food systems that encourage local and regional connections, which can strengthen and foster sustainable agriculture efforts. Virginia Cooperative Extension, through our SARE initiatives, organizational partnerships, and professional development program, seeks to serve all of agriculture and fully integrate sustainable farming practices that emphasize the community, economic and ecological components of sustainability throughout the food and agricultural system. We will continue to provide the most current and best scientific information and research so that producers and citizens can meet their individual and community objectives for sustainability and resilience.
1) Annually conduct training regarding sustainable agricultural practices and Southern Region SARE programs on a statewide basis and in conjunction with other planned agent and partnering agencies (i.e., NRCS, FSA, SWCD, Farm Credit) existing training programs to reach the following:.
• at least one hundred Extension Agents (VCE)
• Twenty Farm Service Agency (FSA) personnel and Farm Credit system personnel
• Fifty Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Soil and Water Conservation District personnel
2) Annually conduct train-the-trainer training on a statewide basis and in conjunction with existing annual conferences and/or field meetings to reach at least 400 persons including farmer, landowners, farming associations, state government agency personnel, county government personnel, nongovernment organizations (NGO’s) and community-based organizations (CBOs).
3) Annually conduct training with at least 80 underserved limited resource farmers, landowners and community leaders, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, women, and persons who have limited access to land, labor, and capital regarding sustainable agriculture practices and Southern Region SARE programs and resources.
Virginia is fortunate to have 46,030 farms and more than 8.3 million acres of farmland (U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 Census of Agriculture). These farms are not one-size-fits-all but uniquely different based on location, physiography, resources, size, history, and values. Virginia SARE, in collaboration Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, works to leverage agricultural and community partnerships in education and research to develop place and values-based food systems, which are embedded with and founded on core sustainable agricultural principles and values, across Virginia to serve farms of all sizes. Virginia SARE and its educational partners realize farmers of all sizes are finding common ground around sustainable agriculture topics and their mutual interest in soil health, cover cropping, and better farm-to-table connections. Within this context, Virginia’s 2016 – 2017 Model State Program and its professional development programming focused on peer-to-peer learning and training for Extension educators, USDA professionals, and mentor farmer-leaders to encourage implementation of core soil health principles and practices, adoption of diverse cover cropping systems, and development of more community-focused food and farm connections to benefit farmers, while strengthening community resilience and Virginia’s local and regional food systems. In 2016 – 2017, Virginia SARE supported and encouraged participation of USDA and Extension personnel and farmer mentor-leaders in the 2016 Southern Cover Crop Conference, the 2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference, Virginia Association for Biological Farming’s 2017 Annual Conference, the 2017 American Forage and Grassland Council’s Conference, a soil health and regenerative farming training with Gabe Brown at the Organic Growers School, a two-day Visioning for Food System Change Workshop, and the North American Agroforestry Conference. Networking and finding common ground around sustainability and conservation were important facets of all of these training programs. The intended audience for Virginia’s 2016 – 2017 Model State Plan of Work was Extension and USDA professionals (i.e., Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, Farm Credit, and Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Forestry etc.) and mentor farmer-leaders working on sustainable agriculture, resource conservation, community, local and regional food systems, and community economic development issues.
Virginia SARE utilizes a collaborative train-the-trainer approach to build the educational and instructional capacity of Extension and USDA professionals and mentor farmer leaders to address current and emerging sustainable agriculture related issues. This approach includes direct instruction, peer-to-peer learning, networking, farmer case studies, and in-field demonstrations. Additionally, members of the Virginia SARE Advisory Committee have worked collaboratively with other organizations and conference planning committees to influence and shape training agendas of workshops, field days, and applicable conferences. Virginia SARE focuses on key topics such as soil health, reduced tillage, cover cropping, crop diversification, sustainable business planning, more direct and intermediate marketing, community-focused food systems, grazing, systems-thinking, and efforts to enhance resilience to crop and livestock systems. We seek to leverage resources, be opportunistic with emerging opportunities, piggyback training when feasible, and collaborate to meet the state’s educational goals.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Systems thinking, systems leadership, resilient systems, and network analysis, along with core sustainable agriculture practices, are topics that need to be continually emphasized since sometimes the biggest obstacle to sustainability is the way we think and perceive the world.
Face of SARE
Virginia’s SARE program focuses its outreach and promotional efforts to increase SARE’s public presence at events and conferences; regularly update the Southern SARE web page with content from Virginia, and increase its online and social media presence through Facebook; and to contribute to an electronic newsletter, Fresh Perspectives, developed by Extension. Collaboration and coordination with partner organizations continue to be important focuses for Virginia’s professional development training opportunities so resources can be optimized and leveraged where and whenever possible. Virginia SARE is also trying to be more intentional in addressing equity, fairness, and justice in relation to sustainable agriculture and resilient food systems.