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 organizational and community, 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 a strong consumer interest in how food is produced and where food comes from and making more durable transparent connections with farmers. Additionally, there is more interest in community-focused 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 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, non-government organizations (NGO’s) and community-based organizations (CBOs).
3) Annually conduct training with at least 75 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.
4) Continually assess how equity, justice, and fairness are integrated into programming as foundational principles for economic, environmental, and social sustainability.
Virginia has 44,800 farms and more than 8.1 million acres of farmland (U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2017 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 values-based food and farming systems, which are embedded with and founded on core sustainable agricultural principles and values, across Virginia to serve farms of all scopes and 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, grassland management, emerging urban agriculture, and better farm-to-table connections. Within this context, Virginia’s 2018 – 2019 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 2018 – 2019, Virginia SARE supported and encouraged participation of USDA and Extension personnel and farmer mentor-leaders in the 2018 Virginia Farm to Table Conference, the Real Dirt on Dirt and Soil Health Workshop, Virginia Association for Biological Farming’s 2019 Annual Conference, the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council’s 2018 and 2019 Grazing School for Agricultural Professionals on Sustainable Grazing and Grassland Management Education, the Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit, and the 2019 Southern Region Cover Crop 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 2018 – 2019 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-focused food systems, community economic development, and overall resilience in the food and farm system.
Virginia SARE utilizes a collaborative train-the-trainer and peer-to-peer 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 exchanges, networking, farmer case studies, in-field and classroom demonstrations. Additionally, members of the Virginia SARE Advisory Committee continue to work collaboratively with other organizations and conference planning committees (i.e., Virginia Farm-to-Table Conference, Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit, etc.) to influence and shape training agendas of workshops, field days, and applicable conferences. Virginia SARE identified soil health, reduced tillage, cover cropping, crop diversification, sustainable business planning, more direct and intermediate marketing, community-focused food systems, grazing, systems-thinking, the resilience of cropping and livestock systems, and servant leadership as key focus areas for its ongoing professional development programming. We seek to leverage resources, be opportunistic with emerging opportunities, piggyback training when feasible, and collaborate to meet the state’s educational goals.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
To strengthen Virginia's educational and outreach network of educators and practitioners of soil health and cover cropping systems to include Extension, USDA-NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and mentor farmers to create more resilient and viable farming systems for agronomic, livestock, and horticultural operations across the state.
Soil, water, and air cannot be taken for granted. Soils must be sustained and regenerated for farming and the overall health of the population to remain strong in the 21st century. Sound ecological soil management that includes minimizing soil disturbance and keeping soils covered to prevent losses and build soil health continues to be an educational and outreach priority of Virginia’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program. Peer-to-peer learning and training around core soil health principles were a key emphasis of professional development programming. In 2018 – 2019, Virginia SARE provided professional development training related to soil health and cover cropping systems for Extension educators, USDA professionals, and mentor farmer-leaders by providing travel scholarships and conference registration support to the 2018 Virginia Farm to Table Conference, the Real Dirt on Dirt and Soil Health Workshop at Virginia State University with David Montgomery, Anne Bikle, and Alan Franzluebbers, the Virginia Association for Biological Farming’s 2019 Annual Conference, the Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit, and the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council’s 2018 and 2019 Grazing School for Agricultural Professionals on Sustainable Grazing and Grassland Management Education.
In December 2018, the Virginia SARE helped to provide professional development on soil health and cover cropping to an audience of 101 extension agents and specialists and USDA-NRCS staff as part of the Virginia Farm-to-Table Conference and the Real Dirt on Dirt Workshop. These events featured Dr. David Montgomery, Anne Bikle, Dr. Alan Franzluebbers, and noted practitioners like Patryk Battle of Living Web Farms, Mark Dempsey of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), Bill Patterson of USDA-NRCS, and leading farmers in soil health promotion. These educational events were especially successful
in building partnerships and expanding understanding of soil health and its relevance to farming and Virginia’s water quality improvement plans among farmers and key decision makers. The two-day farm-to-table conference featured 4 concurrent sessions and 18 training tracks; was attended by 240 people, and provided professional development training to 55 Extension and USDA-NRCS professionals. The Real Dirt on Dirt and Soil Health Workshop held on December 7 was attended by 46 Extension and NRCS staff and 104 people overall. Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources for the Chesapeake Bay Ann Jennings and Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Dr. Jewell Hairston Bronaugh shared their perspectives and insights. There are ongoing conversations with the Deputy Secretary on possible funding for soil health through Virginia’s nutrient management program.
Virginia SARE leveraged its educational resources this programming year and was able to highlight the separate research and educational efforts of SARE and its conservation partners.
Virginia SARE’s annual plan of work involves facilitating professional development training opportunities for
Extension and USDA professionals and farming leaders. The conferences attended, number of attendees,
and estimated hours of professional development training for 2018 relating to soil health and cover cropping were as follows: Virginia Forage and Grassland Conference Grazing School for Agricultural Professionals on Sustainable Grazing and Grassland Management Education, Blackstone and Steeles Tavern, VA (n = 45; Est. hours of training 540), Virginia Association for Biological Farming, Richmond, VA (n=11; Est. hours = 88), 2018 Virginia Farm to Table Conference, Weyers Cave, VA (n =55; Est. hours = 660), and the Real Dirt on Dirt and Soil Health Workshop, Petersburg, VA (n = 46; Est. hrs. = 184).
Virginia SARE collaborated with Dr. Wade Thomason of Virginia Tech and Chris Lawrence of Virginia USDA-NRCS to promote the VA Cover Crop College educational program and the 7 full-day sessions of VA Cover Crop 101 that were offered across the state between late January and mid-April 2019. According to Dr. Thomason and Chris Lawrence, approximately 200 VA PDP audience personnel including VCE, NRCS, SWCD, and influential industry and farmers participated in this first cover crop college class. An emerging outcome of these collaborative efforts is that there is renewed interest in formalizing a Virginia Soil Health Coalition, which also resulted in a group of soil health collaborators and researchers developing and submitting a pre-proposal to a national foundation for funding consideration.
To provide comprehensive, pasture and grazing management training for agricultural professionals in Virginia
Based on an identified need to provide more comprehensive, pasture and grazing management training for agricultural professionals in Virginia, Virginia SARE partnered with the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council representatives (Extension, USDA, and farm leaders) to address this need and support the professional development training related to sustainable grazing and grassland management. Working in combination with the NRCS State Grazing Specialist, Extension Specialists and the expertise of key VFGC members and industry representatives, the existing producer-oriented grazing school materials and training format was modified to better meet the need of the agricultural professional.
Once the groundwork for the grazing school was in place, the speakers and training agenda and the training was promoted to the targeted professional group. Ultimately, there were a total of 45 agricultural professionals who work directly with forage and livestock producers throughout the state who attended a Fall 2018 training at the Southern Piedmont AREC and Extension Center in Blackstone, VA and a Spring 2019 training at the Shenandoah Valley AREC in Steeles Tavern, VA. The participants included soil conservationists, SWCD conservationists, Extension Agents, nutrient management specialists, and farm cooperative consultants who ranged in experience from 1-28 years with just greater than 60% of those attending having 5 years or less experience.
The participants received two full days of intensive training focusing on the principles of pasture and grazing management, complete with classroom instruction supplemented by field training exercises to reinforce the principles associated with soils, forages, plant growth, fencing and grazing management in a way that improves pasture condition and builds soil health in a sustainable manner while maximizing utilization of forage by the grazing livestock. On the second day, the students were divided into teams of 5 for the practical field exercise on a local farm. After conducting the pasture condition assessment, identifying resource concerns and assessing the existing forage species composition and production, the groups assembled in the classroom to draft grazing plan layouts and recommendations. The groups spent the last hour and a half presenting their plans to actual producers and landowners.
Based on the results of the pre- and post-evaluations, the participants confirmed that their knowledge and understanding of forages and grazing management increased and based on the knowledge and skills acquired at this grazing school, it will improve the quality of technical assistance and planning they will provide to the forage and livestock producers in their respective service areas.
The combined service area of the participating agricultural professionals covered 43 counties from different regions of the state, including two professionals with statewide responsibilities. The total service area represented by these agricultural and conservation professionals covers over 1,000,000 pasture acres on 9,000 cattle farms. The reach of these professionals has the potential to impact the management of almost 400,000 cattle, 14,000 sheep, 20,000 goats, and over 30,000 horses and ponies managed on these pasture acres.
To nourish farming, health, community, and hope by training Extension and USDA professionals on local and regional agriculture, ways of healthfully dealing with farming stressors, applying of core soil health principles, cover cropping, value-added products, fermented products, farm profitability, high tunnels, agroforestry, silvopasture, GRAZE 300, and other food and agricultural system topics.
To continue the conversation about and work on soil health, economic vitality, seasonality, sustainability, agroforestry/silvopasture, community food forests, and equity in the food system, while also addressing emerging issues of behavioral health and suicide in the farming community, Virginia SARE provided educational support for 55 Extension and USDA professionals to attend 2018 Virginia Farm to Table Conference. The conference is a two-day educational event hosted by Extension and Virginia USDA-NRCS as a professional development networking opportunity. Extension and USDA personnel learned from notable speakers and panelists: Dr. Mike Rosmann of Ag Behavioral Health, Reverend Dr. Heber Brown III of the Black Church Food Security Network, Dr. David Montgomery and Anne Bikle of the University of Washington and Dig2Grow, Dr. Elsa Sanchez and Dr. Beth Gugino of Penn State University, Steve Gabriel of Cornell Cooperative Extension and Wellspring Forest Farm, Catherine Bukowski author of Community Food Forest Handbook: How to Plan, Organize, and Nurture Edible Gathering Places.
The two-day conference featured 4 concurrent sessions and 18 training tracks and was attended by 240 people. Several Extension and USDA professionals connected with Dr. Mike Rosmann to discuss ways to address behavioral health and be a resource for the farming community. Additionally, four dairy farmers called Dr. Rosmann to seek help with regard to the crisis within the dairy sector.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Virginia SARE has provided training on visioning, bottom-line organizational change, and customer service as part of its professional development programming concurrently as we have focused on soil health, cover cropping, and community food systems and practices. These training topics are very well-received by Extension and USDA personnel and mentor farm leaders so Virginia SARE plans to offer additional training related to these topics in 2019 along with servant leadership. Systems thinking and leadership continues to be needed to help people see the interconnectedness of practices and the food and farming system as a whole.
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 contribute to an electronic calendar developed by Extension and shared with partner organizations on a weekly basis. Collaboration and coordination with partner organizations continue to grow and be important focuses of 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 disparities in equity, fairness, and justice in relation to sustainable agriculture and resilient food systems.