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 due to COVID-19 restrictions and the need to increase the accessibility of all SARE resources.
Project objectives from proposal:
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 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 editing existing professional development content to enhance usage and accessibility. Additionally, Virginia SARE will provide printed materials and resource books (e.g., Mid-Atlantic Commercial Vegetable Guides in English and Spanish) for USDA and Extension professionals and farmer-mentor leaders to build their individual and organizational resource capacity.