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The Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Program is a collaborative effort represented by a range of beginning farmer stakeholders across the Commonwealth of Virginia: higher education, Virginia Cooperative Extension, non-governmental sector, state and federal government, and individuals. groups. It is 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.

Long-Term Program Goal

The Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Program aims to improve opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers to establish and sustain viable agricultural operations in Virginia through the development and enhancement of whole farm planning programs, online resources, and farmer mentoring networks.

Program Objectives

Our program launched in 2010.  Current program activity is aimed at accomplishing four main objectives:

  • Coalition Building & Capacity Building: Establish a diverse coalition of stakeholder organizations, agencies, and groups to support the development and growth of outreach, education, training, and networking opportunities for Virginia’s beginning farmers and ranchers
  • Whole Farm Planning Curriculum & Programs: Collaboratively develop and deliver whole farm planning curriculum using experiential learning and classroom delivery methods
  • Social Networking and Resources: Collaboratively develop and deliver online learning tools and resources using examples of whole farm planning curriculum activity
  • Farmer Mentoring: Develop and strengthen mentoring networks to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and skills of experienced farmers and ranchers with the beginning farmer and rancher community
  • Participatory Program Assessment: Explore the collective impact of the VBFRCP through an analysis of the Coalition model as a community-based participatory approach to beginning farmer training and program development

Beginning Farmer Audience

We are dedicated to addressing the needs of the spectrum of beginning farmers and ranchers in Virginia.  The Coalition recognizes a diversity of farming experiences, backgrounds, and aims held by Virginia beginning farmers and ranchers.  From the perspective of on-farm experience:   This program primarily targets: 

  • Prospective or Explorer Farmers: individuals interested in starting a farm or ranch. This includes next-generation farm family members as well as those who do not come from a farming background.
  • Start-Up Farmers: individuals who are in the early stages of their agricultural operation.
  • Re-Strategizing Farmers: farmers who are making changes to their operations after an initial period of farming. These individuals usually have increased decision-making responsibility and commitment to farming.
  • Establishing Farmers: farmers who are expanding, diversifying, and stabilizing their farming operations.
  • Transitioning Farmers: individuals who are family farm members who have decision making roles on the farm without having primary farm operator status. These individuals are also referred to as heritage farmers.

*Farmer categories are a modification of those referred to by the New England Small Farm Institute (for full reference, see: Sheils, C. (2004). What does the term “new farmer” mean? In Working with new farmers: Topics in professional development (pp. 4-7). Growing New Farmers, a special project of The New England Small Farm Institute.

Community-Based Approach

This program follows a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach.  This is a bottom-up approach to research and program planning that aims to equitably involve partners in the process. This approach recognizes the unique strengths that each group brings to the coalition.  We believe that this process helps build sustainable partnerships and services for and with beginning farmers for long-term agricultural viability.

Who Is Involved?

The Coalition component of the program is collaborative in nature to adequately address the start-up needs of farmers and ranchers in Virginia. Each Coalition member has a strong record of providing outreach, education, training, and resource services to farmers and ranchers in Virginia.  Coalition members share a sincere commitment to addressing whole farm planning needs through accommodating, organizational cooperation and promotion.

While a strong team of collaborators exist, the Coalition welcomes the participation of other organizations to help to build a more comprehensive support structure by expanding, enhancing and sustaining services and resources.

For detailed contact information for those involved with the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Program, please see our Technical Assistance Directory.


Advisory Group and Program Management Team

The Advisory Group of the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition consists of committed individuals from the Coalition who represent both farmer and service provider perspectives in Virginia. This elected advisory group is responsible for providing input to guide program activity to best address the expressed needs of the Coalition. The Program Management Team is a partnership brought together through Virginia Cooperative Extension .  This team is primarily responsible for the development, management, and evaluation of program activity.

Advisory Group

Anne Geyer, Agriberry Farm

Emily Heizer-Hall, Razzbourne Farms

Jessica Palmer, Piedmont Environmental Council

Kyley Clevenger, Farm Credit Knowledge Center

Patrick Johnson, Fruit & Vegetable Farmer, Small Farm Agent for Virginia State University

Ramon Arancibia, Virginia Tech, AREC

Rick Cavey, Grayson LandCare

Rosalea Potter, Buffalo Creek Beef

Management Team

Adam Taylor, Catawba Sustainability Center

Allyssa Mark, Virginia Tech

Amy Fannon, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Andrew Sorrell, VDACS

Andy Seibel, Catawba Sustainability Center

Charley Maxwell, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Derrick Cladd, Virginia State University

Jim Hankins, Fauquier Education Farm

Jim Hilleary, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Kathlyn Terry, Appalachian Sustainable Development

Kelli Scott, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Kim Morgan, Virginia Tech

Kim Niewolny, Virginia Tech

Lorien MacAuley, Virginia Tech

Natalie Cook, Virginia Tech

Patrick Johnson, Virginia State University

Ray Pickering, Department of Agricultural Development, Fauquier County

Ron Saacke, Virginia Farm Bureau

Sarah Sharpe, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Tamara McNaughton, Appalachian Sustainable Development

Tiffany Drape, Virginia Tech

Tom Archibald, Virginia Tech

William Crutchfield, Virginia State University

Special thank you to Althea Whitter-Cummings, Jennifer Helms, Lisa Hightower, Matt Benson, Maurice Smith, Phil D'Adamo-Damery, and Sarah McKay for their support with the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Program.

Curriculum Writing Team 

The Curriculum Writing Team is a diverse team of Coalition members that represent service providers and farmers from across the Commonwealth of Virginia.  This team is currently developing whole farm planning curriculum to guide the user in a friendly format through five integrated modules:  Introduction to Whole Farm Planning, Land Acquisition and Tenure, Sustainable Farming Practices, Marketing, and Holistic Business Management.  The team includes:

Amber Vallotton
Bobby Grisso
Bette Brand
Christy Gabbard
Donna Westfall-Rudd
Gordon Groover
Kevin Schmidt
Kim Niewolny

Kirk Ballin
Linda Cronin
Mark Schonbeck
Pete Adamson
Sheri Dorn
Steve Hodges
Theresa Nartea
Zachary Waldron


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If you want to stay informed about our program activities using social media, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or subscribe to our listserv.  If you have comments or questions, please contact Allyssa Mark by email.

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.


For website updates, such as broken links, please contact Allyssa Mark, Program Associate.