Virginia SARE 2023 - 2024 Model State Program (MSP) for Professional Development

Progress report for SVA23-001

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2023: $22,000.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2024
Grant Recipient: Virginia Cooperative Extension
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
State Coordinator:
Dr. Eric S. Bendfeldt
Virginia Cooperative Extension
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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 Virginia's SARE Professional Development Program. Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, along with SARE Advisory Committee partner organizations, continue to host and sponsor professional development workshops and programs to build knowledge and educational capacity to strengthen the implementation of sustainable farming and land care practices across Virginia. Ecological soil management, no-till farming, cover cropping, community food systems, regenerative grazing, agroforestry, and overall market diversification for meat, milk, vegetable, and fruit producers continue to be core programming areas, while climate-smart farming, carbon farming, and farm transition are emerging educational needs. Virginia SARE provides professional development programming and resources to expand local and regionalized market opportunities for more direct farm-to-fork value chain connections for the benefit of Virginia farmers, food businesses, and communities. Virginia CooperativeExtension, through our statewide SARE programming initiatives, seeks to serve all of agriculture and fully integrate sustainable farming practices that emphasize community, economic and ecological components of sustainability and viability throughout the food and agricultural system. The outreach goals would be to reach at least 600 educators, farmers, and professionals through these train-the-trainer programs and in conjunction with existing educational events hosted by SARE partner organizations like Virginia Association for Biological Farming, Virginia Forage and Grassland Council, and others. The Virginia SARE bus tour participation goal would be 50 Extension, Small Farm Outreach Program, USDA, and farmer-leaders for a two-to-three-day educational exchange.

Project Objectives:

Virginia SARE aims to annually conduct face-to-face and online professional development training on a statewide basis regarding sustainable agricultural practices, while also expanding understanding and participation in Southern SARE's educational and grant programs. Virginia SARE's audience includes Extension Agents (VCE), VSU's Small Farm Outreach Program educators, USDA-Farm Service Agency (FSA), USDA- Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and Soil and Water Conservation District personnel, non-government organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs), mentor-farmer leaders, and 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's current proposed training will continue to focus on soil health, cover cropping, community-focused food systems, market connections, enterprise diversification, agroforestry, silvopasture systems, rotational grazing, farm business planning, carbon farming, and climate-smart resilience.

To increase knowledge and implementation of core soil health principles, ecological soil management, and conservation to assist Virginia achieve its watershed improvement plans, set a firm foundation for climate-smart farming, and improve the most basic infrastructure of local and regional food systems.

To enhance knowledge and implementation of regenerative grazing and integrative livestock management for natural resources conservation, direct market channels, and emerging wholesale marketing opportunities because animal agriculture continues to be a major economic contributor to the state’s economy and also critical for the protection of water quality and conservation of water quantity.

To improve understanding of the transformative role of Extension and USDA professionals in sustainable community, local, and regional food systems development and networking, particularly as a means to help farmers and ranchers gain leverage and position in an ever-competitive and commodity-focused agricultural system.

To expand Virginia's educational resource base of online and video educational materials that are accessible and timely to emerging issues because of the ongoing hybrid nature of training needs post-COVID.

Additionally, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University also aim to reestablish the Virginia SARE coordinated bus tours that have been organized in the past prior to COVID-19.

The outreach goals would be to reach at least 600 educators, farmers, and professionals through these train-the-trainer programs and in conjunction with existing educational events hosted by SARE partner organizations like Virginia Association for Biological Farming, Virginia Forage and Grassland Council, Virginia Soil Health Coalition, and others. The Virginia SARE bus tour participation goal would be 50 Extension, Small Farm Outreach Program, USDA, and farmer-leaders for a two-to-three- day educational exchange.

Virginia SARE will work closely with VSU’s Small Farm Outreach Program to conduct and achieve these objectives. A major effort will be to improve online video resources with new video content and edit existing professional development content to enhance usage and accessibility. Virginia SARE will provide printed materials and resource books for USDA and Extension professionals and farmer-mentor leaders to build their individual and organizational resource capacity.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Sanjun Gu (Educator)
  • William A. Crutchfield (Educator)
  • Chris Lawrence (Educator)
  • Dr. Dan Goerlich (Educator)
  • Herman Ellison (Educator and Researcher)
  • Anne Herring (Educator)
  • Harold Harris (Educator)
  • Tim Mize (Educator)
  • Dr. Kendall E. Tyree (Educator)


Educational approach:

Virginia’s SARE’s educational approach in 2023 – 2024 continued to focus on peer-to-peer learning and mentoring with Conservationists, Extension personnel, and mentor farmer leaders providing leadership for a train-the-trainer model. Virginia SARE continues to encourage the sharing of expertise and experiences through storytelling and demonstration. Drought resilience was a topic of particular interest this programming year.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

2023 Professional Development and Peer-to-Peer Networking to Enhance the Resilience, Sustainability, and Equity

To create a more resilient, just, sustainable, equitable food and farming system through holistic professional development programming and outreach to Extension, USDA professionals, and mentor farmer leaders so they can better serve all of Virginia agriculture.


The social, economic, environmental, and health impact of Virginia’s food and farm system is profound. Therefore, professional development is critical for enhancing the resilience, equity, and sustainability of Virginia's food and farming system for present and future generations. We know 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 soil, pollinator habitat, streams, and watersheds; and critical community viability 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 ongoing 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. Virginia SARE aims to use a holistic values-centered approach that considers soil-to-soil connections and more transparent value chain relationships (Lengnick, 2015).

Gaps and barriers that became apparent during COVID continue to be a challenge for vulnerable populations and communities of color, therefore, Virginia SARE continues to be intentional in its outreach to historically underserved farmers and communities. A specific focus included more consideration of safety and esteem trauma in educational programming and outreach.

Outcomes and impacts:

Virginia’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Professional Development Program facilitated professional development training opportunities for Extension/ USDA professionals and mentor farmer leaders to attend the inaugural Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference - VSU Small Farm Outreach Summit, Virginia Forage and Grassland Council (VFGC) Annual Winter Workshops across the state, the 2023 Virginia Farm to Table Conference, the VANTAGE No-Till Alliance Annual Conference, and the online two-part Virginia Farm to Table webinar series with Dr. Elizabeth Heilman. The 2023 Virginia Farm-to-Table Conference reached over 210 people and provided professional development for 44 Extension and USDA-NRCS personnel. The VABF-VSU Small Farm Outreach Summit included over 600 participants. Each of these events also provided continuing education credits (CEUs) for conservation nutrient management planning. Resource speakers for these professional development programs included Dr. Elizabeth Heilman of Wichita State University, Dale Strickler of Regenerative Wisdom and the author of the Drought Resilient Farm, Dr. Gail Myers of Farms to Grow and director of the documentary Rhythms of the Land, Dr. Heather Coiner of Little Hat Creek Farm and the Common Grain Alliance, Ken Meter of Crossroads Resource Center and the author of Building Community Food Webs, Dr. David R. Montgomery & Anne Biklé authors of What Your Food Ate, Dr. Pedro Aponte of Saint Isidore Homestead and Permaculture, and Daniel Austin of Little Red Hen Farm and Green Sprig Ag. Ray Archuleta of Understanding Ag and the Soil Health Academy was the resource speaker for the VANTAGE No-Till Alliance Annual Conference. Ray Archuleta's presentation on regenerative agriculture and connections to overall health provided a great opportunity for SARE outreach to no-till farmers, educators, and technical service providers. 

Similarly, Virginia SARE provided over $4,000 in educational books throughout the year to the SARE audience to build professional capacity across the state related to soil health, cover crop systems, ecological weed management, pollinator habitat, and sustainable business development. Specific PDP resource books included Building Soils for Better Crops, Managing Cover Crops Profitably, A Soil Owner’s Manual by Jon Stika, Managing Weeds on Your Farm: A Guide to Ecological Resources, and Building a Sustainable Business.

To follow up on Dr. Elizabeth Heilman's presentations at the 2023 Virginia Farm to Table Conference, Virginia SARE partnered with Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Soil Health Coalition, and the VT Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation to provide a two-part online webinar series. The topics included 1) Rooting Resilience in Farm Communities and 2) Harvesting Unity: Empowering Farmer Participation. Dr. Heilman discussed how to navigate and recognize emotional trauma, cultural dynamics, and sociological factors affecting change in farming communities. The webinar enhanced participants' understanding of the unique culture and sociology of rural communities; and addressed common cultural disconnects in discourse among farmers, Extension personnel, technical service providers, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations. 

The twenty-six episodes of the 4 The Soil: A Conversation podcast were published and promoted on Virginia SARE's social media channels throughout 2023 - 2024.

2023 Virginia Farm to Table ConferenceProgram_December06_2023


Educational & Outreach Activities

275 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
4 Minigrants
12 Online trainings
5 Tours
16 Travel Scholarships
8 Webinars / talks / presentations
12 Workshop field days
784 Other educational activities: Virginia SARE Facebook page and Instagram outreach

Participation Summary:

72 Extension
18 Researchers
38 Nonprofit
41 Agency
14 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
375 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

3 Grants received that built upon this project
6 New working collaborations
140 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
375 Farmers reached through participant's programs

Virginia SARE at Virginia Tech and Virginia State University continue to collaborate and coordinate with partner organizations for Virginia’s professional development training opportunities to optimize and leverage resources of time and energy wherever possible. Equity, fairness, and justice are very pertinent to sustainable agriculture and resilient food systems. Short videos of farmers' testimonials and technical clips of farmers' on-farm practices are very practical and helpful for wider outreach and awareness building.  

Face of SARE

Face of SARE:

Virginia’s SARE program focused its outreach and promotional efforts at the following events and conferences: the 2023 Virginia Farm to Table Conference, the 2024 Virginia Forage and Grassland Council Annual Winter Conference, the 2024 Virginia Association for Biological Farming and VSU Small Farm Outreach Summit, 2024 VANTAGE No-Till Alliance Conference, and Virginia Cooperative Extension’s annual Conference. Virginia hosted the National SARE Fellows training and tour in May 2023. Additionally, Virginia aims to regularly update the Southern SARE web page with content from Virginia, and increase its online and social media presence through Facebook, Instagram, and contribute to an electronic newsletter developed by Virginia Tech’s Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation and the Virginia Soil Health Coalition.

375 Farmers received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
140 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.