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2015-2016 Coalition Partner Mini-Grants

Whole Farm Planning

In December 2015, the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition (VBFRC) disseminated over $30,000 of mini-grant funds to Coalition partner organizations for seven 2016 programming opportunities aimed at supporting the next generation of farmers and ranchers in Virginia. A fundamental component of this mini grant initiative is to assist VBFRC organizations to support the goals of the Coalition while, at the same time, increasing the capacity of the partner organization's ability to either initiate new or enhance existing programming projects designed to support place-based and culturally-appropriate education, training, and networking opportunities for Virginia’s beginning farmers. Funds support expenses directly related to the implementation of the project such as travel expenses, human resources, and educational related materials.

Mini-grant projects illustrate new and enhanced programming opportunities to be implemented across the Commonwealth in 2016. These projects reflect a number of capacity building and farmer-led approaches. Start-up issues these projects address include: gaining access to scale-appropriate markets and marketing channels; peer development for young and military veteran farmers; building ecological farming skills and experience; and gaining access to farmer-knowledge through networking and resource sharing. 

In July 2016, mini-grant recipients were asked to submit a 6-month progress report. This report would detail highlights of successes, areas in need of improvement, progress toward each objective mentioned in the project proposal, and a budget update. 

In December 2016, these mini-grant projects were completed and their highlights and successes will be shared in our blog.

Projects funded by the 2016 VBFRC mini-grants are listed below, with project details and progress statements provided.

 

Virginia Cooperative Extension (Loudon OfficeFauquier Office, and Warren Office)
Agriculture Education (AgEd) Clearinghouse
Jim Hilleary, Jim.Hilleary@vt.edu

Project Description: The Virginia Cooperative Extension Offices in Loudoun and Fauquier County, in cooperation with Fauquier Office of Agriculture Development, the Loudoun Rural Economic Development Council and Loudoun’s Office of Economic Development proposed the Agriculture Education (AgEd) Clearinghouse.  The clearinghouse will enable users to identify, review, and compare disparate agriculture related education programs available nearby.  The primary features of the AgEd Clearinghouse are 1) the convenience of a single, online information source and 2) a user interface that enables learners to create a personalized learning plan that identifies and sequentially aligns independent programs.  The primary benefit of the AgEd Clearinghouse will be its ability to empower VBFRC members and others to determine how, when, and where they apply life resources to obtaining knowledge.  A secondary benefit will be its innovation value. 

Project Progress: Jim Hilleary and Phil D’Adamo-Damery are working with a representative from Code for America and a web developer to create the AgEd Clearinghouse website and an app that pulls information from Localwiki to populate the website. Jim and Phil have been populating prototype pages on Localwiki and will be adding content to these pages. A secondary goal of this project is gathering, recording, and publishing data that will contribute to the ongoing VT and VCE reviews of Localwiki and its utility as a tool facilitating knowledge production, documentation, and sharing. Progress towards this goal includes informal conversations with other Localwiki ag/food system stakeholders. A highlight of this project is that the site is being designed in such a way that another group/region could take the data structuring and programming and easily apply it to their own work, allowing this work to possibly expand to other areas. The team has also noted its success in using WebEx for meetings between individuals in different areas of the state. The team has noted problems with relying on open-source platforms, as information and support are not always immediately available. However, the team does not expect this to be a long-term issue.

 

Appalachian Sustainable Development
Enhancing “Sell What You Grow” Booklet to be Useful to Virginia Growers in their Decision Making Process about Market Channel Entry
Tamara McNaughton, tmcnaughton@asdevelop.org

Project Description: This project will enhance the "Sell What You Grow" booklet to be useful to Virginia growers in their decision making process about market channel entry. The current version of this booklet can be found at: http://asdevelop.org/wp-content/uploads/RMA-Marketing-Tool.pdf. This robust booklet will be 12 to 16 pages and include regulatory information, food safety information, worksheets, marketing strategies, and appendices that offer regional specific ready markets. Workshops will be offered in conjunction with the release of the new booklet to help people in their awareness of this new resource and the information within it.

Project Progress: Tamara McNaughton, Kim Morgan, Sam Norman (VT graduate student), and the VBFRC marketing critical action team have been working on this project. A 16-page booklet has been developed, which includes information on: available market channels, regulatory agencies, and various regulations outlined per product to be sold. The booklet has been sent through the VCE peer review process and is pending review. Upon approval, 5,000 copies of the booklet will be printed and advertised/distributed at conferences across the state. The book will also be available in a digital format, the details of which are still being discussed. In addition to the booklet, two Market Ready workshops will be offered this November featuring the Sell What You Grow booklet, and interviews of growers will be recorded for video work. The impact evaluation of these efforts is currently being discussed. 

Market Ready Flyer
Market Ready Training Flyer

Virginia Tech Catawba Sustainability Center
Teaching Conservation Agriculture in the Classroom and Field at the Catawba Sustainability Center
Josh Nease, jnease@vt.edu

Project Description: The development and delivery of two workshops consisting of classroom-based and on-farm demonstrations, in addition to farm tours of demonstration plots highlighting innovative, sustainable agricultural practices provide a rich environment to enhance the network of local agriculturalists, while infusing the latest research into regional farming initiatives. Demonstration plots of late-season broccoli will provide farmers insight into opportunities and methods that may extend the growing season and income for the farm. This multi-faceted approach offers beginning farmers and agriculture students (secondary and collegiate-level) access to experts in the field as they share best practices for sustainable agriculture such as drip irrigation, cover cropping, minimum tillage (i.e. demonstrations of equipment such as a roller crimper and transplanter), farmscaping (i.e. trap crops, beneficial insect habitat, etc.), and farm preparation for harvest and the upcoming growing season. In addition to these efforts, Catawba Sustainability Center (CSC) staff will begin working with Farm Incubator Plot participants (3 veterans) to enhance their sustainable farming practices, develop and produce educational materials for beginning farmers and ranchers, and connect farmers with other local and regional resources that will aid in their efforts to begin and maintain sustainable agricultural practices.

Project Progress: The CSC has installed the cover crop plot and is sharing it through workshops and tours. One workshop, entitled “The Why’s and How’s of Conservation Agriculture,” was offered in June. A second workshop and plot tour are scheduled for September. This fall, students from Lord Botetourt High School and James River High School will visit the CSC to tour the conservation agriculture plot. In addition to offering workshops and tours, the CSC is sharing conservation agriculture resources. Conservation practices were adopted by the CSC Small Farm Incubator Plot participants, and fact sheets and additional materials were distributed at the Conservation Agriculture workshop(s). The remaining objectives of this project will be met by the September workshop and July - October demonstration plot tours. The highlights of this program include the first ever working demonstration plot at the CSC, having 30 participants attend the first conservation agriculture workshop, the adoption of conservation practices by CSC incubator farmers, and collaboration with a beginning farmer to produce broccoli and cabbage in this plot. These were accomplished thanks to the teams well-defined goals and timeline, project team expertise, and organization within the team.

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September 14 Flyer

Fauquier Education Farmand Virginia Cooperative Extension (Fauquier Office)
An Introduction to Getting Your Hands Dirty
Jim Hankins, fauquieredfarm@gmail.com

Project Description: Through five years of Beginning Farmer trainings with the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program the most frequently requested additional training from our students has been an intensive how to farm course. During the preparation of their individual Whole Farm Plans many of our students have recognized that they lacked the basic farming skill sets to launch their new enterprise, and there has not been any entry level course locally available for them to acquire these skills. This proposed new course, An Introduction to Getting Your Hands Dirty, will try to address this need. We propose to offer a six week course that will include a classroom lecture each week,with two Saturday afternoon labs to be held at the Fauquier Education Farm. Also two farm tours will be held on local farms that will expose the students to a wide diversity of crop production and methods. The students will also be encouraged to participate as volunteers in the on-going crop production at the Fauquier Education Farm and to attend the Workshop Series offered there. We plan to hold this course in April and May of 2016 in order to take advantage of the most intensive period of activity on the Education Farm. This course will be most appropriate for individuals interested in field grown and high tunnel production crops such as vegetables, small fruits and specialty crops such as cut flowers or hops. This course would be appropriate for people aspiring to a commercial level of production or the home gardeners who don’t know where to start.

Project Progres: The Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer Program offered a 6-week beginning farmer course, titled “An Introduction to Getting Your Hands Dirty” in April and May of 2016. The course had 22 students enrolled, 12 of which were previous students of the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer course. Evaluations were received by 16 students, with 1 student reporting they had learned a little, 1 reporting they learned a moderate amount, and 14 reporting they learned a great deal as a result of the course. Most feedback was positive and the course exceeded participants’ expectations. Most class participants have stayed in contact since the end of the class and continue to use Tim Ohlwiler and Jim Hankins as resources for additional information. 

 

Getting Hands Dirty Flyer
Intro to Getting Your Hands Dirty Flyer 2016

Grayson LandCare

Grayson LandCare Beginning Farmer & Rancher Mentor Project
Richard Cavey, ricknjencavey@gmail.com

Project Description: The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Mentor Project (BFRMP) will introduce beginning farmers and ranchers to a mentor, build a bonding relationship centered on a shared mentor/mentee learning experience at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference (VBFC), and connect them with a larger network of farmers that make up the Farmer to Farmer Roundtable – an Appalachian Sustainable Development project of which our Project Manager is a member.

In order to strengthen the relationship and cement the bond between the mentor and mentee, participants will be required to attend whole farm planning workshops and presentations at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference. All participants will travel together in a rented van and stay at the community lodging facility offered by the event’s host facility. To sustain the relationship beyond the conference, participants will be enrolled in the Farmer to Farmer Roundtable and Business Planning Project sponsored by ASD. When enrolled, mentors and mentees will take part in the monthly farm tour socials offered by the program and offer their farms as venues for the tours.

Project Progress: The goal of this project was to develop a mentoring relationship to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and skills of experienced farmers and ranchers with beginning farmers and ranchers. The mentee group consisted of six high school aged individuals and two veterans. The mentors included four local farmers and ranchers, two of which were also veterans. Mentors and mentees attended either the Virginia Biological Farming Conference or the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville. Four participants have enrolled in the Farmer to Farmer Roundtable and have attended six farm tours. Two high school aged participants spent a week interning on a mentor’s farm. In the future, participants will be encouraged to participate in ASD’s whole farm planning in September, as well as stay active in the Roundtable tours. Participation at the Mother Earth News Fair and the two week-long internships were highly successful aspects of this project. The farm tours hosted by ASD are appreciated by the project participants, as well. The project has benefited from having a pool of mentors, rather than specific mentor assignments, as this is more accommodating for busy farmers and allows for a wider variance in skills and networks to share. The team found it difficult to access high school aged participants and farmer mentors. 

 

Local Food Hub, Inc.
Local Food Hub’s 2016 Workshop Series
Adrianna Vargo, adrianna@localfoodhub.org

Project Description: Local Food Hub is a nonprofit organization that partners with over 70 family farms across Virginia to increase community access to local food. It provides the support services, infrastructure, and market opportunities that connect people with food grown close to home. Local Food Hub seeks support for its well-regarded annual workshop series, which provides high quality training opportunities to a wide range of beginning farmers in an a la carte and accessible format. This robust training program complements the formal curriculum available through the VBFRC Whole Farm Planning programs, and will include six 2-3 hour workshops and 2 full-day workshops that focus on topics of interest identified by area farmers -- such as pest management, food safety and FSMA, wholesale production practices, and financial management. As enhanced features of our 2016 workshop series, we propose to expand our “Farmer to Farmer” training, and to explore web video documentation of a selection of workshops to increase accessibility.

Project Progress: The purpose of this project was to offer a series of workshops to farmers and ranchers, with subjects including FSMA training, organic certification, production walks, honeybee colony management, pest management, cover crops, and marketing. Ten workshops will be provided and are still in progress – workshop dates range from February to November. LFH planned six farmer-instructors for these workshops in recognition of the value of farmer-to-farmer training. Video recordings have been made and will be used as accessible digital content, as well as to highlight/recap the various workshops and production walks. Videos of completed workshops are in the editing process. Evaluations have been submitted to VBFRC for each workshop to date. Minor changes were made to accommodate changes in curriculum and instructor availability and to maximize attendance. The project team is also challenged by late/slow registration. The team is considering initiating a cut-off point or providing incentive for early registrants.

Virginia Cooperative Extension (Prince Edward Office and Halifax Office)
Cultivating Connections: A Marketing & Networking Event for Beginning Farmers in Southside
Caitlin Miller, cgracem@vt.edu

Project Description: “Cultivating Connections: A Marketing and Networking Event for Beginning Famers in Southside” is a one-day event designed to assist beginning farmers in growing their market presence. The primary goals of this event are to expose beginning farmers to regional and statewide marketing resources that exist to connect farmers with buyers and to facilitate relationships between beginning farmers and marketing outlets including potential wholesale buyers.

Project Progress: The primary goals of this project were to expose beginning farmers to regional and statewide marketing resources, connect beginning farmers to various marketing venues, and to assess the resource needs of beginning farmers in the Southside region. The Cultivating Connections event had 39 participants and included presentations by Virginia Market Maker, Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition, Virginia Grown & Virginia’s Finest. In the afternoon portion of the event, round-table discussions were held on food hubs, produce auctions, value-added, farm-to-school, and accepting SNAP. Lastly, the event had information tables from various organizations including: Virginia Food Works, Virginia Market Maker, Virginia Grown, VBFRC, VCE, Lar-Lyn Farm, Local Roots Food Co-Op, and Heart of Virginia Buy Fresh Buy Local. This event received positive feedback from participants. Evaluations were collected and are still being processed.

The goal of assessing the resource needs of beginning farmers in the Southside region was not met by this event. This information was going to be gathered after the event but was withdrawn at the risk of overwhelming participants with surveys. This information was going to be gathered during the round table discussions, but the information was not received. A follow- up evaluation may be necessary to reach this goal. In the future, extension agents in this region would like to work to design a beginning farmer program based on the VBFRC whole farm planning curriculum.

Cultivating Connections Flyer
2016 Cultivating Connections Flyer

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The Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition Program is a state-wide and coalition-based Extension program housed in Virginia Tech’s Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education. Funding was sponsored by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Award #2015-70017-22887. For more information, contact Kim Niewolny, Program Director and Extension Specialist, at niewolny@vt.edu or 540-231-5784.

 

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