Author Archives: Eric Bendfeldt

Register Now for the 2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference!

The 2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference will be of interest to producers, buyers, community and agricultural development officials, policymakers, educators, technical service providers, and food system stakeholders.

This year’s event features a pre-conference tour, along with diverse presentations from national and state experts and practitioners on the practical applications of soil and water health; finding leverage and your niche; local food for all; building a solid business foundation; nutrition and community health; opportunities for military veteran farmers; food system leadership and development; collective impact and local food system level change initiatives.

Registration for the conference is being coordinated in partnership with Blue Ridge Community College’s Workforce and Continuing Education program. Therefore, you will be directed to Blue Ridge Community College’s website as if you were enrolling in a course.

The EARLY BIRD RATE of $40 per day for registration is available through November 30, 2016.  The regular registration rate of $60 per day will apply after November 30, 2016.

Please note the Early Bird Discount will be applied once the courses are added to your shopping cart on the Blur Ridge Community College enrollment site!

If you encounter any problems during the registration process and have questions, please contact BRCC Workforce and Continuing Education at 540-453-2215.

 

2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference Schedule and Registration Now Available!

We hope you have your calendars marked and plan to attend the 2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference. The most up-to-date conference schedule is available!

The program will be updated as needed in the coming weeks. Registration links are available at http://conference.virginiafarmtotable.org/register/

flyer-cFor registration, Virginia Cooperative Extension is working closely with Blue Ridge Community College’s Workforce and Continuing Education to strengthen the college’s efforts and course offerings in the area of agriculture and farm-to-table careers.

 

USDA Programs in Support of Farm-to-Table Initiatives

If you are looking for grant and loan programs to incubate your local food and farm initiative or enterprise, this graphic from USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food site may be of interest. The color coding refers to the specific USDA agency that manages the grant or loan program (i.e., USDA – Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA – Farm Service Agency, USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service, etc.).

If you have specific questions and would like to talk with someone about the different programs, please visit your closest USDA Service Center or Virginia Cooperative Extension office for further guidance.

USDA Grant and Loan Programs in support of Local Food System Development.

USDA Grant and Loan Programs in support of Local Food System Development.

Cultivating Healthy Farms and Resilient Communities

Save the Date_2016To learn about healthy farms, resilient communities and more food system topics from farmers, practitioners, and researchers, plan to attend the 2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference. For the 5th year, Virginia Cooperative Extension, in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition, Virginia Food System Council, Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Research Education (SARE), Virginia FAIRS, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Credit of the Virginias’ Knowledge Center, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), Virginia Division of Energy, Eastern Mennonite University and community partners, present the 2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference December 6 – 8, 2016 at Blue Ridge Community College’s Plecker Workforce Development Center, Weyers Cave, VA. The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Cultivating Healthy Farms and Resilient Communities.’

The conference will feature engaging and inspirational speakers with broad experience and knowledge of food, farming and pressing environmental issues including Dr. Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ellen Kahler of Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund,  Chef Michael Twitty of Afroculinaria and the Cooking Gene, Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farm, Glyen Holmes of the New North Florida Cooperative and other great panelists.

Confirmed resource speakers and panelists to-date include the following:

  • Dr. Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program
  • Ellen Kahler of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund
  • Chef Michael Twitty of Afroculinaria
  • Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farm
  • Dr. Morris Henderson of 31st Street Baptist Church
  • Glyen Holmes of the New North Florida Cooperative
  • Jenna Clarke of Project Grows
  • Tony Kleese of Earthwise Organics
  • Dr. Marcia DeLonge of the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Dr. Andrea Basche of the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Maureen McNamara Best of Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP)
  • Trevor Piersol of Alleghany Mountain Institute Urban Farm at Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind
  • Brad Burrow of Artisan’s Hope
  • Katrina Didot of A Bowl of Good Cafe
  • Wendy Wenger Hochstetler of Wenger Grapes
  • Christy Huger of Mountain View Farm Products
  • John Garber of Red Front Supermarket
  • Andrew Wingfield of George Mason University and the Virginia Sustainable Food Coalition
  • Representative of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community’s Farm at Willow Run.

There will be three specific concurrent session tracks as part of the conference where producers and practitioners share their local and regional expertise on 1) Practical Applications of Soil and Water Health, 2) Making Money in the Middle: Finding Your Niche, and 3) Local Food for All. Additionally, there will be in-depth (3 to 6 hours) trainings on crop and whole-farm budgeting offered by Tony Kleese of Earthwise Organics and food system training on collective impact and other topics  by Ellen Kahler of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.

What is unique about this year’s conference?

• There will be a full day pre-conference tour of local farms and agribusinesses on Tuesday, December 6 for a close-up look at and discussion with farm and food businesses in the Staunton and Greater Augusta County area. This chartered tour will offer insight to the successes and challenges by local farms and agribusinesses that are stepping outside the traditional box. Join us for an informational and fun experience!
• On Wednesday evening, the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition will host an informational and networking mixer. This FREE event will be off site at a restaurant in the Staunton area the evening of Dec. 7th.

Look forward to friendly conversation, networking, and a chance to learn more about the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition. Open to individuals looking for support in the very beginning or early stages of their farming trajectory, or seasoned producers that also want to network and mingle. Refreshments will be available from 7-9 PM. Come join the networking fun!

Anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of community, local and regional food systems should plan to attend.

The cost for the conference is $40 each day. The cost of the pre-conference tour is $25.

In addition to a full day of mind-opening ideas from the speakers on food system topics, you will also:
• Network with other like-minded growers.
• A great meal made with food from local farms.

We are currently inquiring about continuing education credits for nutrient management planners and crop advisers.

The full schedule and a link to registration will be available soon at http://conference.virginiafarmtotable.org!

Common Ground: Growing Money and Soil at Potomac Vegetable Farms

Can Virginia farmers find common ground around the issue of soil health and the management of core principles for better soil function and performance?

Understanding and building your farm’s soil resource is critical for productivity, profitability and sustainability. Of course, soils have inherent and dynamic properties that affect the function and performance of soils. Like a personal bank account, good farmers and producers seek to manage the dynamic processes by making soil health-building deposits and minimizing withdrawals that are soil health-depleting.

At the 2015 Virginia Farm to Table Conference, Ellen Polishuk of Potomac Vegetable Farms shared how she and her colleagues work to grow money and soil with commercial vegetable production. The Common Ground Soil Health profile video below highlights the core principles she uses to build soil health and maintain a positive bank account.

Six (6) additional technical clips were developed in collaboration with Ellen Polishuk of Potomac Vegetable Farms, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Association for Biological Farming, and AE Media. The play list can be accessed at the following link: https://youtu.be/YnWJBegM4ZQ?list=PLuZ_HCbDlptObEcuqWaCkhYhiTS3CP0ua

The video and technical clips were produced as part of a USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) project entitled, Finding Common Ground: Healthy Farms from the Soil Up.

Strengthening Your Foodshed, Protecting Our Watersheds

By Lauren Arbogast and Eric Bendfeldt

You may be wondering: what is a foodshed? It seems like a new term, but the term was actually first coined in the late 1920s. Like the term ‘watershed’ and how it describes water flow in a region, the term ‘foodshed’ is used to describe where food is produced, transported and eventually consumed. Today, there is renewed interest in and analysis of the flow of food within and out of a region to encourage more localized economic activity and regional self-reliance.

To learn about foodsheds, watersheds and more, plan to attend the 2015 Virginia Farm to Table Conference. For the 4th year, Virginia Cooperative Extension, in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Research Education (SARE) and community partners, is pleased to present the Virginia Farm to Table Conference December 2 – 4, 2015 at Blue Ridge Community College, Weyers Cave, VA. The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Strengthening Your Foodshed, Protecting Our Watersheds.’

2015 conference header with speakers_2Proceed to Eventbrite site to register ONLINE

The conference will feature engaging and inspirational speakers with broad experience and knowledge of food, farming and the environment including Dr. Dennis Keeney of Keeney Place and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2014 James Beard Leadership Award Winner — Ms. Karen Washington of Rise and Root Farm, Dr. Chuck Benbrook of Benbrook Consulting Services and Mr. Robin Morris, Executive Director of Mad River Food Hub.

There will be three specific concurrent session tracks as part of the conference where producers and practitioners share their local and regional expertise on 1) Practical Applications of Soil and Water Health, 2) Making Money in the Middle: Finding Your Niche, and 3) Local Food for All.

Current panelists for the concurrent sessions include: Ellen Polishuk of Potomac Vegetable Farms, Bill Cox of Casselmonte Farm LLC , Dr. Mark Schonbeck of Abundant Dawn Community, Dr. Mike Strickland of Virginia Tech, M. James Faison of Milton’s Local, Duron Chavis of Virginia State University’s Harding Street Urban Agriculture, Derek Cunningham of Lynchburg Grows, Todd Niemeier of the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville , C.J. Isbell of Keenbell Farm, Erik Croushorn of Messick’s Farm Market, Ken Smith of MooThru, Rosalea Potter of Buffalo Creek Beef, Beth Schermerhorn of Harrisonburg EATs, Nikki D’Adamo-Damery of the Appalachian Foodshed Project, Elizabeth Theriault of Richmond Health Department, Eric Walter of Black Bear Composting, Andrea Early of Harrisonburg City Public Schools, Dr. Elena Serrano of Virginia Tech, Gary Larrowe of Carroll County Economic Development, Ben Sandel of Cooperative Development Services, Kathlyn Terry of Appalachian Sustainable Development, Jeff Heatwole of Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, and Ron Copeland of Our Community Place.

Additionally, there will be a pre-conference tour on Wednesday, December 2 for a close-up look at and discussion with Mt. Crawford Creamery, Friendly City Food Co-op, Rocktown Food Trucks, T & E Meats, and Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse and Old Hill Cider.

Register today to reserve your seat to strengthen your foodshed and protect our watersheds! https://goo.gl/xqX8z2

Stop Being a Clod: Minimize Soil Disturbance

Farming and the marketing of farm and food products has many challenges without being a clod and making the job even tougher. With vegetable production and farming in general, the question of whether to till the soil or not can be a dilemma or the start of a new way of thinking? For proper seed germination, good seed to soil contact is critical so a good seedbed is essential even if it’s a very small area. However, can we be doing more harm than good by relying solely on tillage for providing a good environment for the seed and subsequent plant? Or are we leaving the soil naked and hungry and the plant vulnerable?

Obviously, too much tillage is bad. Any tillage is disruptive, but over-tillage destroys soil structure, disrupts the habitat for many microbes and beneficial insects, increases the breakdown of soil organic matter and the oxidation and loss of soil carbon. Can we minimize soil disturbance and use gentler options for creating a healthy environment for a seed and growing plant? Can we create a soil environment that is not cloddy and too hard and tight for even a plant root to penetrate? Can we avoid pulverizing the soil with tillage equipment so the results are a dust and the powdery remains of a soil?

Virginia Cooperative Extension is cooperating with Virginia’s USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to encourage soil building strategies to minimize soil disturbance and promote overall soil health. Here are some tips to get you started on your way: 1) Start slowly and manage plant residue from previous crops better; 2) Add soil organic matter as often as possible with compost, mulches, green manures and soil amendments; 3) Use diverse cropping rotations that include plants with different rooting depths and patterns; 4) Feed the soil microbes a diverse diet; 5) Experiment with planting different soil building cover crops like radishes, turnips, crimson clover, buckwheat and old standbys like rye and barley; 6) Be aware of the adverse effects of pesticides and certain types of fertilizers on soil ecology; and 7) If you have to till, use the most gentle equipment possible under the right soil moisture conditions to avoid pulverizing the soil, creating clods or just being a clod!