- Education and Training: networking, workshop
Building Sustainable Communities through Agricultural and Food-based Entrepreneurship (BSC) is a project designed to spur entrepreneurial development in the value-added agricultural sectors of a four-county rural area in Southside Virginia. The target region is one undergoing significant change both because of the national decrease in farm portion of consumer spending and because of a local transition away from tobacco farming to new crops and value-added products.
The program will provide skills training and build an ongoing network of entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs that will contribute to the building of sustainable agriculture and sustainable communities in the target region. Project activities include a series of 13 workshops, a food-tasting event, a mentorship program, and the launching of a network of producers/entrepreneurs to explore ongoing sustainability initiatives.
The project has been developed and will be overseen by a coalition of partners representing a wide range of stakeholders from the region, including producers, entrepreneurs, higher education, government, cooperative extension, and the nonprofit sectors. This coalition provides both an additional arena for regional cooperation and an avenue through which the activities developed in the project can be replicated on a statewide basis.
Southside Virginia is a region that has long been dependent on the textile and tobacco industries. Textile manufacturing has moved out of the region, and tobacco farming is no longer the cash crop it once was. With the loss of these industries and the high unemployment rate (currently about 11.5%), many people have had to look elsewhere to find sustainable income. Entrepreneurial development, particularly for those in the agricultural sectors, is essential.
Building Sustainable Communities has two primary objectives. First, the project will provide hands-on skills training for entrepreneurs in the agricultural or food-based arenas to develop sustainable, growing businesses responsive to the new global marketplace.
Second, the project aims to build longer-term capacity within the community for continued sustainability efforts by building a regional network of agricultural entrepreneurs able to contribute to their own sustainability through mentoring, joint marketing, and related activities.
An additional objective being met through the structure of the project itself as well as the proposed activities is the ongoing strengthening of a coalition of partners from a wide range of stakeholders. The partnership involved in planning and implementing the project includes producers, food-based entrepreneurs, cooperative extension, higher education, government and the nonprofit community.