Progress report for SVA21-001
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 build educational capacity and strengthen the adoption and implementation of sustainable farming and land use methods and practices across Virginia, especially in the areas of ecological soil management, cover cropping, community food systems, grassland agriculture, integrated conservation agronomy, livestock management, and overall market diversification for meat, milk, vegetable, and fruit producers in direct-to-consumer, intermediated, and wholesale market channels. There continues to be strong consumer interest in how food is produced and where food comes from. Additionally, the development and support of community, local and regional food systems can strengthen and foster sustainable agriculture values, principles, and programming. Virginia Cooperative Extension, through our SARE initiatives, organizational partnerships, and professional development program, serves all of agriculture and fully integrates sustainable farming practices that emphasize the community, economic and ecological components of sustainability throughout the food and agricultural system. Virginia plans to focus specifically on building and enhancing online train-the-trainers resources this grant cycle and into the future due to COVID-19 restrictions and the need to increase the accessibility of all SARE resources.
The impacts and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have affected our professional development programming objectives and approach to training. Where possible and when self-distancing restrictions are eased, we aim to: 1) annually conduct online and face-to-face pieces of training regarding sustainable agricultural practices and Southern Region SARE educational and grant programs on a statewide basis and in conjunction with other planned and existing training programs to reach 80 Extension Agents (VCE), 24 Farm Service Agency (FSA), 20 Farm Credit system, 75 USDA- Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and 50 Soil and Water Conservation District personnel; 2) conduct online train-the-trainer webinars and workshops to reach at least 480 persons including farmer, landowners, farming associations, state government agency personnel, county government personnel, non-government organizations (NGO’s) and community-based organizations (CBOs), including 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.
Virginia SARE and its advisory committee will work closely with VSU’s Small Farm Outreach Program, the Virginia Soil Health Coalition, and the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition to conduct and achieve these objectives. A major effort will be to improve online video resources with new video content and editing existing professional development content to enhance usage and accessibility. Additionally, Virginia SARE will provide printed materials and resource books (e.g., Native Forage Grasses of the Eastern United States and Building Soils for Better Crops) for USDA and Extension professionals and farmer-mentor leaders to build their individual and organizational resource capacity.
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 entire food value chain. Although COVID-19 has continued to curtail the opportunity for many in-person educational interactions, Virginia SARE was able to pivot to highlight online professional development programming opportunities that ranged from Come to the Table monthly offerings on community food systems from Virginia Cooperative Extension to soil health workshops conducted by Virginia Association for Biological Farming at their annual conference to conversations with researchers, educators, and farmers about their soil health principles and practices.
Virginia SARE has worked closely with the Virginia Soil Health Coalition and its 30 partners to continue to encourage networking and collaboration around soil health educational programming and promotional efforts. Additionally, because of the limitations in face-to-face gatherings, Virginia SARE and the Virginia Soil Health Coalition have collaborated to develop blog posts that can complement efforts to build soil health and promote sustainable agriculture.
- (Educator and Researcher)
Virginia’s SARE’s educational approach has 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. However, due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, face-to-face interactions were restricted particularly with Virginia's federal partner organizations, and required following social distancing protocols and continued adaptation. Therefore, Virginia SARE outreach focused on the promotion of online webinars conducted by Extension and USDA professionals, the distribution of SARE publications and other sustainable agriculture-related books such as Native Forage Grasses of the Eastern United States, and collaboration on farmland succession planning training, and support of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming's Annual Conference tracks and speakers that pertained to sustainable agriculture research and education in 2021.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Virginia and other states across the Southeast U.S. will face a significant shift in farm ownership over the next 10 to fifteen years as the age of the farming population continues to increase and current farmers transition out of farming into retirement or another career. To address this agricultural reality, Extension and USDA professionals can help in the education and coordination of farm transition planning for farmers and agricultural landowners.
The University of Wisconsin's Center for Dairy Profitability, the International Farm Transition Network, and Virginia Cooperative Extension's Agribusiness Management and Economics Program Team developed and organized this training as a professional development opportunity to address the emerging and prescient need for farm transition planning and facilitation. The training was geared toward SARE's target PDP audience and individual professionals looking to add more tools to their educational toolbox to assist farmers and landowners with farm succession. Often the tools people think of relating to those that attorneys and accountants can offer, but this training will focus on the role of an unbiased facilitator and working through family dynamics. Extension and USDA professionals find themselves being asked by farm families where to start, this training helped give Extension and USDA professionals the knowledge and skills of where to start with farm families and how to help walk them through farm succession process.
Virginia SARE provided participation and travel scholarships for 13 individuals to attend this two-and-a-half-day Virginia Certified Farm Succession Coordinator training. The initial response to the training was positive.
"This was an excellent training that provided us with a systematic approach to helping families address generational transition issues. The tools provided are practical and user friendly and are conducive to the facilitator picking-and-choosing elements that best suit the farm succession situation." ~ Tom S., Extension Agent, Farm Business Management
"I’d like to thank Virginia SARE and VCE’s Agribusiness Management & Economics Program Team for making this opportunity available. The Certified Farm Succession Coordinator Training was an effective way to improve my skills and understanding of farmland transition. In a supporting role, being able to understand the issues facing family farms greatly increases my ability to pass that understanding on to our clientele and impact the sustainability of farming and ranching operations that I work with. Beyond business profitability, the concepts taught in this training also give Cooperative Extension personnel the ability to impact farm families’ quality of life and interpersonal relationships. It is my hope that by facilitating the successful transition of family farms we will be able to conserve our farmland and natural resource for future generations." ~ E. French P., Extension Food Value Coordinator and SARE Education Support Specialist
To discuss the future of local and regional agriculture, factors impacting farm-to-table connections, and perspectives and trends in values-based value chains as he presents an economic outlook for small to mid-sized farms and food businesses in a post-COVID era.
A professional development webinar and conversation for Extension and USDA professionals with Dr. David Kohl, Professor Emeritus, Virginia Tech Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics. Dr. Kohl brings years of expertise to the conversation as an educator, researcher, business coach, and part-owner of Homestead Creamery in Wirtz, Virginia. He specifically discussed the future of local and regional agriculture, factors impacting farm-to-table connections, and perspectives and trends in values-based value chains as he presented an economic outlook for small to mid-sized farms and food businesses in a post-COVID era.
Discussion topics included the following: the Future of Local and Regional Agriculture; Factors Impacting Farm to Table Connections; and Perspectives of Values-Based Value Chains.
In summary, Dr. Kohl addressed in his presentation mega-trends affecting agriculture and the economy, positive trends for young farmers, future business models, an economic watch list, common mistakes by agricultural entrepreneurs in wholesale and retail markets, “Golden Rules” for small and mid-sized businesses, and a take-home toolkit to assess and improve Business IQ, while also emphasizing prioritization of priorities for business and life.
Fifty-four (54) people from Extension and USDA Service Centers participated in the training and webinar. Twenty-six (26) Extension colleagues listened to the webinar recording, and an additional 491 were reached through social media. Dr. Laurie Fox identified Dr. Kohl as a resource person for the Virginia Nursery & Landscape Association’s Lunch & Learn program
To raise awareness of native forage grasses as a basis for rotational grazing and increase opportunities for regenerative grazing to build soil health and protect water quality.
Virginia SARE has supported professional development opportunities through the years to improve the state's knowledge base of grassland agriculture through the support of annual grazing schools and field days. Virginia SARE provided professional development support to have Dr. Alana Franzluebbers and Nicolette Hahn Niman as resource speakers at the four annual forage and grassland conferences that were held across the state hosted by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council. Attendance at the four conference sessions across the state ranged from 65 to 105 people. Virginia SARE had an educational display and shared books and jump drives of SARE resources.
Because COVID-19 limited face-to-face educational opportunities, particularly for our USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service partners, Virginia SARE in consultation with the state's forage and grassland specialist provided 190 copies of Native Forage Grasses of Eastern U.S. to Extension and USDA professionals across the state as an educational resource. Of this amount, 15 copies were designated for farmer mentor-leaders who participated in and provided training at professional development-related forage and grazing conferences and workshops.
To create more resilient, just, sustainable, viable farming and food systems for agronomic, livestock, and horticultural operations across the state.
Virginia SARE's educational and outreach network of Extension, USDA-NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and mentor farmers despite the challenges of COVID continued to promote and educate around soil health, diverse cropping and livestock systems, regenerative grazing, community-focused regional food systems, food equity, food security, and equitable-oriented food value chain coordination.
Within this context, soil health continues to be a significant focus. Virginia SARE worked closely with Virginia USDA-NRCS, Virginia Tech, and the Virginia Soil Health Coalition to amplify the messaging around the four core soil health principles: Keep soil covered, Minimize soil disturbance, Maximize living roots, and Energize with diversity. As part of this effort, the 4 The Soil: A Conversation podcast was launched in September 2021. Seven episodes were published in 2021; guests included former Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring, Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, Dr. John Galbraith of SPES, Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Chris Lawrence of USDA-NRCS. Virginia SARE will continue to look for ways to highlight farmers who are supporting these principles to share their stories and insights on the podcast.
Virginia SARE is also working closely with Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and Virginia State University's Small Farm Outreach Program on improving value chain coordination for small and midsized farms and food businesses historically underserved by an ever-commoditizing food and farm system.
Additionally, Virginia SARE supported the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference in Roanoke and had an exhibit at the conference. Over 300 farmers and agricultural leaders attended the conference. The agenda had a specific soil health track with over 20 presentations ranging from grain production to biological soil amendments to soil health as racial justice, while also covering the core soil health principles.
Educational & Outreach Activities
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 (e.g., Virginia Association of Biological Farming Annual Conference). As the Virginia Soil Health Coalition has become formalized with more than 30 partner organizations, this collaboration has allowed Virginia SARE to expand its scope and outreach on soil health but also on many other sustainable agriculture-related topics such as regenerative grazing native forage species. Virginia SARE continues to be more intentional in addressing equity, fairness, and justice in relation to sustainable agriculture and resilient food systems.
Face of SARE
Virginia’s SARE program continues to focus its outreach and promotional efforts to increase SARE’s public presence at events and conferences as more face-to-face gatherings are scheduled; 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. The endemic nature of COVID-19 has made it necessary to increase online education and promotion of SARE-related training and outreach.