Dana Boyle welcomed special visitors to her farm on a bright, beautiful Monday.
As they toured over 100 acres of tomato plants, asparagus fields and blocks of pepper and eggplants at Garner’s Produce, the group took notes, snapped pictures and asked questions.
From Boyle, they learned about how she and her family approached farmers’ markets, the methods her family used in planting crops throughout the fields and the ways in which Garner’s divided its harvest among various supermarkets, restaurants and other consumers.
Their journey to the Northern Neck farm was a significant rung in the ladder as the inaugural class of the Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results (VALOR) has set out to become the next major crop of agricultural leaders in the state.
The intent of the VALOR program is to develop participants into advocates for agriculture who can successfully influence policy makers and lead others to solutions for a wide range of agricultural issues.
The individuals who toured Garner’s Produce came together from localities across Virginia to take what they learned back to their communities as a means of positively affecting agriculture in a variety of ways.
In viewing Boyle’s farm, VALOR Director Megan Seibel noted it was important for individuals to see a variety of agricultural operations, industries and related aspects in order to become leaders in the field.
“It’s nice to see production on different scales that really meets very specified market needs,” said Seibel. “I think it’s lovely, too when people are leaders within their own families and businesses and can share what that means to them to be leaders in their communities.”
Boyle shared that it was vital for advocates of farming in Virginia to have interest in what she and other farmers are doing, as well as how and why they are doing it.
She also emphasized that the leaders-in-training needed to understand farmer’s challenges, opportunities and the “big picture” of not just her farm, but agriculture in both the Northern Neck and in all of Virginia.
As Boyle and members of the inaugural class sat down for lunch, Benjamin Grove, a VALOR participant who works for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech asked Boyle what she hoped they would take away from visiting her farm.
Boyle replied that she wanted her leaders to understand the importance of what farmers in their state do, particularly in relation to how crops are raised, what the typical customer is demanding from agriculture and the current issues that farmers face.
Grove, in turn, noted that the program would impact each of the participants differently because they would be going to go back to their own lives.
“For me, what I take from this is…awareness about what our alumni are doing, and that folks are relying on cooperative extension…but also at the same time hoping that extensions and the college are serving the needs of our producers, too,” Grove continued.
Dana Fisher, a Maurertown resident and Agricultural Education teacher at Central High School in Woodstock, hopes to use his newfound knowledge at VALOR to benefit his students.
Matthew Hickey, a Staunton resident and owner of Classic Carriage, said that following his visit to Boyle’s farm, he could talk with other producers and point out that certain farmers were practicing diversifications.
“Part of the purpose of this program is to see the industry and learn everything we can about it, but also learn to communicate it so we can show your example to others,” Hickey told Boyle.
Ken Ryan, another VALOR class member who is also a credit underwriter for Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit, said his company’s federal regulator had placed a major focus on the local foods movement.
“For me to sit there and hear internally about the importance and the focus of eating local, and then when I come out and see the sights, I can go back and educate some of my peers about the size and scopes of the operations and the challenges they have,” said Ryan. “So when those opportunities come into the door for us, we can better understand it.”
The other members of the inaugural class who participated in the VALOR program and seek to become agricultural advocates for Virginia include: Virginia Dept. of Transportation Construction Manager Roger Elkins, of Jonesville; Ian Heatwole, Fox Run Farms, LLC, and FRF Cross Keys, LLC, of Weyers Cave; CJ Isbell, co-owner and managing member of Keenbell Farm, LLC, of Rockville; Agricultural Education Teacher Teresa Lindberg, of Jarratt; Hunter Richardson, a cattle farmer and timber producer who is self-employed, of Shacklefords; and Andrew Smith, Senior Assistant Director of governmental relations with the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, of Beaverdam.
For more information about the VALOR program, visit www.valor.aee.vt.edu, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 540-231-2375.
Information on VALOR can also be found by visiting their Facebook, Twitter, YouTube channel and WordPress blog www.valeadersor.com.