Category Archives: Food Access and Security

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!

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