2019 Model State Program- Virginia Polytech Institute

Final report for SVA19-001

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $22,222.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2022
Grant Recipient: Virginia
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
State Coordinators:
Dr. Eric S. Bendfeldt
Virginia Cooperative Extension
Christopher Mullins
Virginia State University
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Project Information


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 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 are 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.

Project Objectives:

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; and 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 65 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 SARE will work closely with VSU’s Small Farm Outreach Program to conduct and achieve these objectives.


Virginia SARE continued to focus its educational and professional development programming on soil health, regenerative grazing, economic vitality, sustainability, and equity in the food system. Additionally, Virginia SARE  provided educational resources on specific topics such as Fescue Toxicosis while also attempting to address significant issues facing the farming community like behavioral health and suicide. Virginia's professional development programming continues to involve considerable collaboration and coordination across the state with Virginia State Universaity, Virginia USDA-NRCS, Virginia Forage and Grassland Council, Virginia Association for Biological Farming, Virginia Soil Health Coalition, and other state agencies and organizations.




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  • William A. Crutchfield (Educator)
  • Chris Lawrence (Educator)
  • Dr. Dan Goerlich (Educator)
  • Herman Ellison (Educator and Researcher)
  • Anne Herring (Educator)
  • Brittany Council (Educator)
  • Nicole Shuman (Educator)
  • Harold Harris (Educator)
  • Tim Mize (Educator)
  • Dr. Kendall E. Tyree (Educator)
  • Caitlin G. Miller (Educator)


Educational approach:

Virginia's SARE's educational approach focused on peer-to-peer learning and mentoring as much as possible with Conservationists, Extension personnel, and farmer-leaders providing leadership as part of a train-the-trainer model. Additionally, Virginia SARE encouraged sharing of expertise and experiences through storytelling and demonstration.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Professional Development and Networking for more Resilient, Just, Sustainable, and Viable Farming and Food Systems

To create more resilient, just, sustainable, and viable farming systems for agronomic, livestock, and horticultural operations across Virginia through Virginia's educational and outreach network of Extension, USDA-NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and mentor farmers knowledgeable about soil health, diverse cropping and livestock systems, regenerative grazing, community-focused regional food systems, food equity, food security, and emerging market opportunities.


Virginia’s food systems directly impact the survival and viability of farms and farmland; the economic
development of rural and urban communities; the care, restoration, and resilience of ecological resources such as local waterways; and critical health issues. Virginia SARE, with its statewide collaboration and educational network with Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, USDA agency partners, farmer mentor-leaders as advisors, is well-positioned to provide educational and professional development programming and leadership to cultivate healthier farms and resilient communities as part of an overall resilient, just, sustainable, viable farm and food system that considers the value chain from soil to soil (Lengnick, 2015). 

Outcomes and impacts:

Virginia SARE through educational and financial support for travel, registration, and resource speakers provided 12 hours of professional development training in the areas of service, leadership, courageous conversations, food value chain case studies, growing and marketing small fruit, values-based farming/marketing, dismantling racism and biases in the food systems, livestock and grazing management, Zingerman's Approach to Effective Bottom Line Organizational Change, Visioning Good Food for All Virginians, navigating conflict in the workplace, and soil management and pollinator habitat for organic farmers for 76 Extension educators, USDA professionals, and mentor farmer-leaders in 2019 – 2020.

Resource Speakers included: Dr. Timothy Woods, Extension Professor, Agribusiness Management and Marketing, University of Kentucky; Bob Muth, Muth Family Farm, Williamstown, NJ; Elnian Gilbert, Trainer, ZingTrain, Ann Arbor, MI; Keith Ohlinger, Heritage Hill Farm, Woodbine, MD; J.B. Daniel, State Forage & Grassland Specialist, USDA-NRCS, Farmville, VA; Matt Booher, Extension Agent, Augusta County, VCE, Verona, VA; Amy Hicks, Amy’s Garden, Charles City County, VA; and Amani Olugbala, Professional Facilitator, Soul Fire Farm, Petersburg, NY. 

Case studies featured included: Route 11 Potato Chips as farm to factory; Common Grain Alliance as farm to flour; James Madison Dining Services as farm to university; and Appalachian Harvest as farm to grocery. 

Stages of learning a skill as shared by Elnian Gilbert of ZingTrain at the 2019 Virginia Farm to Table Conference:

Promoting System Resilience through Grassland Agriculture and Regenerative Grazing

To promote systems based resilience through professional development of Extension Educators, USDA personnel, and Farmer Mentor-Leaders in grassland agriculture and regenerative grazing.


In a continued effort to address the identified need for more comprehensive, pasture and grazing management training for agricultural professionals in Virginia, Virginia SARE partnered with the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Virginia USDA-NRCS on a 2019 Grazing School. 

Outcomes and impacts:

The two-day in-depth Grazing School was designed specifically for conservationists, Extension agents, and other agricultural professionals working at the field level. This immersion-style training aimed to provide a better understanding of assessment and management of the resources that make up a grazing system including:
● Forage species, plant growth, and grazing management
● Farm assessment and forage supply/livestock demand
● Grazing arithmetic and pasture allocation
● Grazing system design, livestock flow, stock density management, and grazing plan development.

Training included classroom instruction combined with hands-on application of the material learned along with a grazing system planning exercise. The school was designed to develop both agricultural professionals' knowledge and basic skills while providing them more confidence in their ability to plan a grazing system and discuss regenerative grazing.

The combined service area of the participating agricultural professionals in the 2019 Grazing School covered 33 counties from different regions of the state, including one professional with statewide responsibilities. The total service area represented covers over 1,422,000 pasture and hay land acres on 10,829 cattle farms. The reach of these professionals has the potential to impact the management of almost 838,000 cattle, 50,000 sheep/lambs, 22,000 goats/kids, and over 41,000 horses and ponies managed on these pasture acres. The grazing school was also approved for 8.0 Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation contact hours for Certified Conservation Planners and 6.5 CEUs for Certified Nutrient Management Planners.

Based on the results of the pre- and post-evaluations, the participants unanimously 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 participants of the 2019 Grazing School for Agricultural Professionals included NRCS conservationists, SWCD conservationists, Extension Agents, Agricultural Stewardship Representatives, and a farm consultant ranging in experience from 1-29 years with just greater than 37% of those attending having 5 years or less experience.

As a follow-up to the grazing school and effort to build statewide capacity, Virginia SARE partnered with Virginia Forage and Grassland Council to provide 81 copies of Fescue Toxicosis and Management to Extension and USDA professionals across the state.


Improving Coordinated Outreach and Scheduling or SARE-related Professional Development Programming Opportunities

To enhance coordination and the effectiveness of training and knowledge of available professional development opportunities.


Virginia SARE maintains public calendars of Virginia Cooperative Extension programming. These calendars are available through Google calendar/Google drive, the Virginia SARE Facebook site, and the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture Website. The calendar is also emailed weekly to the entire College of Agriculture faculty at Virginia Tech, the Small Farm Outreach agents and staff at Virginia State University, SARE committee members, and several Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District Agents. Virginia SARE also maintains and emails a calendar of upcoming professional development opportunities for Virginia Tech and Virginia State Cooperative Extension Faculty.

Outcomes and impacts:

Virginia SARE's calendar is emailed weekly to the entire College of Agriculture faculty at Virginia Tech, the Virginia State University's Small Farm Outreach agents and staff at Virginia State University, SARE advisory committee members, and several Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District Agents.

Educational & Outreach Activities

526 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Minigrants
8 Online trainings
2 Published press articles, newsletters
2 Study circle/focus groups
1 Tours
12 Travel Scholarships
18 Webinars / talks / presentations
6 Workshop field days
494 Other educational activities: Virginia SARE Facebook page

Participation Summary:

48 Extension
16 Researchers
29 Nonprofit
34 Agency
337 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

576 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
76 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

4 Grants received that built upon this project
12 New working collaborations
76 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
532 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Additional Outcomes:

Virginia SARE continued to emphasize systems thinking, systems leadership, resilient systems, network analysis, customer service, managing conflict in the workplace, visioning, equity, and justice as complementary with core sustainable agriculture practices and topics needed for sustainability and shifting mindsets for greater resilience.


Virginia SARE continued to emphasize systems thinking, systems leadership, resilient systems, network analysis, customer service, managing conflict in the workplace, visioning, equity, and justice as complementary with core sustainable agriculture practices and topics needed for sustainability and shifting mindsets for greater resilience.

Face of SARE

Face of SARE:

Virginia’s SARE program has focused 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 newsletter 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. 

412 Farmers received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
124 Ag professionals received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.