Category Archives: Farms

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.

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!

Health from the Soil Up

Soil is the foundation for farming and the production of fresh nutritious food, therefore, ecologically sound soil management is critical for the present and future well-being of Virginia’s communities. Similarly, ecologically sound soil conserving practices are needed to protect the environment and keep farms profitable and viable. Soils should not be treated like dirt, but should be cared for to encourage health and proper ecological function.

Recently, the Virginia Soil Health Coalition was formed in cooperation with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to promote and encourage the implementation of four core soil health principles: 1) Keep soil covered, 2) Minimize soil disturbance, 3) Maximize living roots, and 4) Energize your cropping system with plant and livestock diversity.

Scientists and researchers are just beginning to discover and unlock some of the secrets of a healthy well-functioning soil. Of course, soil testing and fertility management are critical for yield and performance since soils need to be fed and plants use nutrients. However, because of the importance of carbon and organic matter to a soil’s chemical, biological and physical properties, these principles give greater emphasis to practices that build soil organic matter and encourage more biological activity to drive and enhance chemical and physical processes needed for healthier soils.
Soil_Carbon
Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) are glad to be part of the Virginia Soil Health Coalition to share education information with and among farmers, growers, landowners and communities about these critical soil health promoting principles.

For more information visit Extension’s VCE Soil Health and Cover Crops topic page.

It Takes a Village: Thoughts on Food Security in Virginia

Guest Contributor: Lauren Arbogast

As a former preschool teacher, my days once were filled with small groups, read-alouds, 4-year-old conversations, and yes – even testing at that young age. However, the math skills and pre-reading skills didn’t concern me as much as my thoughts on the whole child. In my classroom and school district, like most districts across the country, this included whether they had enough to eat outside of school hours. The alphabet suddenly takes a backseat when you’re looking into the vacant stare of a child that can’t focus enough to say the letters in their name, even though you know they mastered that skill months ago.

The issue of hunger across the Commonwealth and United States is startling. In 2011, statistics showed that more than 1 in every 6 children in Virginia was food insecure, meaning that they didn’t know where there next meal was coming from (1). Across the country, in 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children (2). Numbers in the millions are staggering, and can have a numbing effect in relation to personal relativity. But clearly, in my mind, no child should have to wonder about what they will eat, much less 15.8 MILLION of them across the nation.

As a member of the current VALOR (Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results) through Virginia Tech, a fellowship program designed to “develop leaders who can effectively engage all segments of Virginia’s agricultural community to create collaborative solutions and promote agriculture inside and outside of the industry (3),” our class’s last learning opportunity took place in Richmond, Virginia. We had the pleasure of meeting with Virginia’s First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore, Deputy Secretary Sam Towell, and Assistant Secretary Carrie Chenery to discuss current issues in agriculture across the state.

VALOR Richmond First LadyThe First Lady began the discussion with thoughts on hunger and food access for individuals and households across the state. She focused on the creation of the Commonwealth Council on Bridging the Nutritional Divide, a statewide body formed to address three crucial objectives:

  1. Eliminate childhood hunger in Virginia by increasing participation in nutrition assistance programs;
  2. Promote Virginia’s leading industry – agriculture – and increase access to affordable, healthy, and local foods;
  3. Facilitate efficient and effective local initiatives related to community nutrition, food access, and health strategies and programs across the Commonwealth. (4)

The First Lady stressed the importance of full community awareness in relation to hunger; emphasizing we need to utilize our current resources as best possible while implementing creative and necessary solutions to eliminate hunger in our communities. The staggering statistic of 15.8 million hungry children nationwide can be overwhelming, but when I bring it into the context of my community and think about what 1 in every 6 children means in my child’s kindergarten class – statistics become much more manageable. I see faces and think of families, and I am motivated to action.

As a teacher, I could slip snacks into bookbags, or get a little extra food on a certain kid’s tray. Now that I am out of the school system and working with Virginia Cooperative Extension, I’m challenged by the First Lady’s message to make my work in agriculture count for my fellow Virginian’s – and especially for the children.

References:
(1)  No Kid Hungry. Retrieved February 20, 2015 from http://va.nokidhungry.org/hunger-virginia
(2) Feeding America. Retrieved February 20, 2015 from http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/hunger-and-poverty/hunger-and-poverty-fact-sheet.html
(3) Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results, Virginia Tech. Retrieved February 20, 2015 from http://www.valor.alce.vt.edu/
(4) Virginia Bid Network. Retrieved February 20, 2015 from http://www.virginiabids.com/business-news/18376-council-on-bridging-the-nutritional-divide-established.html

 

Excluding Livestock from Streams: A Unique Opportunity and the Right Thing to Do

Discussion about whether to exclude livestock from local waterways and streams can be contentious at times. However, the practice is a high-priority for Virginia as the state tries to do its part to improve local and regional waterways.

For many farmers, excluding their cattle from streams is the right thing to do and fits into their operation and management system. For other farmers, they have questions about the costs of installation and ongoing maintenance and how — or if — the practice can work on leased land. And for some farmers, being encouraged to exclude their cattle from streams feels like an intrusion of privacy and an infringement of their rights.

In working with farmers through the years, I have heard many conversations on why you should or should not exclude your cattle from streams. Of these conservations,  I distinctly remember comments by two forward-thinking Virginia dairy farmers who said, “It is the 21st century and it’s the right thing to do!” and “Given all the educational, technical assistance and financial resources devoted to keeping cattle out of streams at the local, state and federal level, the practice of not keeping cattle out of streams would be indefensible today in a court of law.”  (see photos below on programs and resources available)

SKMBT_C22015012808500Certainly, research into the benefits of livestock exclusion on cattle performance and herd health needs to continue. However, the benefits can include:

  • Improved weight gain;
  • Decreased incidence of disease and foot-related ailments
  • Increased forage utilization;
  • Enhanced pasture management and quality; and
  • Reduced visits and bills from the veterinarian.

For farmers who have had questions about the costs of installation and ongoing maintenance and how –or if — the practice can work on leased land, they should know it is a high-priority and the state is providing resources to overcome any barrier to adoption and implementation of the practice. Virginia will provide 100% reimbursement on the installation of a livestock stream-exclusion system. Farmers and landowners can sign up for the unique cost-share opportunity now through June 30, 2015.

SKMBT_C22015012808501Do your part and do the right thing! Contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District to learn more about the practice and apply for reimbursement.

 

Let’s Not Keep the Importance of Soil Health a Secret!

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, and Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education are partnering with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and other organizations and agencies (e.g., Chesapeake Bay Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Society, Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and others) as part of a Virginia Soil Health Coalition to promote and educate farmers, growers, landowners and the general public on the foundational principles of soil management in an overarching effort to unlock the secrets in the soil.

Virginia’s USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has boiled down the core principles of soil health management to four easy to remember phrases!

Keep the soil covered

Minimize soil disturbance

Maximize living roots

Energize with diversity

Soil was definitely meant to be covered.

Soil was definitely meant to be covered.

For more information about soil health and the Virginia Soil Health Coalition, contact your nearest USDA Service Center or local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.

Soil is a foundational resource to farming, conservation and health in the 21st century so let’s not keep the importance of soil health a secret!

Farm to University: Expanding Virginia’s Educational and Economic Footprint

Guest post by Karen Kappert

Many of us are familiar with the concept of “farm to school,” a practice becoming more and more popular with school districts trying to increase healthy eating, stabilize their local economies, and promote more sustainable food to table practices. While most of us associate this idea with elementary schools, some universities in Virginia have been working hard to initiate their own Farm to University programs.

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Eat Local, Buy Local for Community and the Economy

The Virginia Food System Council and its participating organizations would like to encourage you to take the $10 a week challenge to grow Virginia’s economy. The challenge is one way to bolster local markets for Virginia farmers and increase opportunities for households and communities to know their farmer and where their food comes from. Come on Virginia and take the pledge to Eat Local Buy Local!

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