Category Archives: Local Foods

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.

 

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.

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!

Why Continue to Promote Farmers Markets and Local Foods?

Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry with an annual economic impact of $52 billion, creating nearly 311,000 jobs for the state (VDACS). With such a strong agricultural industry, why is it important to continue to promote farmers markets and local foods in Virginia?

Market_produceToday, many people are two or three generations removed from farming and actual day-to-day food production. Farmers markets are often the first farming and agricultural enterprise people who did not grow up on a farm relate to in a real and personal way, particularly as they get to know and interact with market growers and vendors on weekly visits. Of course, more can be done to educate people about agriculture and the challenges of farming as a livelihood, but these market relationships are a good starting point for additional conversations.

Farmers markets showcase the sights, smells and sounds of the community, while giving a glimpse into agriculture and local food and farm production. Markets also encourage social and community interaction. A study by the Project for Public Spaces reports that customers have on average 10 more conversations at a farmers market than at a supermarket.

Okay, so why promote locally grown Virginia foods? With the competitive nature of agriculture, it is important to optimize and utilize all markets available to Virginia producers from local and regional scale to national and international scale. Do you know that Virginia households spend over $20 billion buying food each year, including about $12 billion to eat at home! Additionally, tourists to Virginia spend another $5 to 6 billion purchasing food. However, even with Virginia’s strong and diverse agricultural economy, Virginia producers are only able to capture a small portion of these food dollars. Also, it is hard to know what ingredients are actually grown and procured in Virginia.

Therefore, promoting local foods is about trying to capture some of the food dollars that are already out there — even if it is a small bump in the current percentage and amount. The definition of local food can be a bit confusing in how to define a specific geographic boundary, but local food is more about relationships and connections to farming; the story and community; freshness and taste; local economies; seizing the opportunity; enhancing resilience and diversity.

2015 USDA FMPP  LFPP Workshops in VirginiaIn Virginia, there are many people who have good ideas to promote farmers markets and local food system development, but a continuing issue is finding funding to get things moving in the right direction. Also, writing a grant can seem daunting. Virginia Cooperative Extension, in partnership with USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Regional Rural Development Centers and Penn State University, is offering three upcoming grant writing workshops in eastern, central, and western Virginia. The workshop materials and resources have been developed and focused to improve the funding success rate of applicants from Virginia and other states to USDA-AMS grant programs, specifically the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP).

The workshops are FREE of charge and all are welcome to register and attend these workshops. Please share the attached flier and announcement with producers, farmers market managers, organizations that would be interested in learning more about and submitting grant applications to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Services’ (AMS) Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Programs.

ONLINE REGISTRATION REQUIRED: http://tinyurl.com/vagrantworkshops
Participants should register for only one of the workshops. The workshops will contain the same instruction and training materials
Producers and attendees can review past awarded grants for inspiration and ideas:
USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) Awardees: http://tinyurl.com/fmpp-grantees
USDA Local Foods Promotion Program (LFPP) Awardees: http://tinyurl.com/lfpp-grantees

Again, the workshops are FREE and all are welcome to attend.

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

 

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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Encouraging Better Nutrition for Individuals and Families: SNAP Resources

Guest post by Karen Kappert

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is a government-funded initiative aimed at preventing hunger and encouraging better nutrition. SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low income individuals and families. SNAP can be used like a debit card to buy eligible food items from authorized retailers – once accepted, you will be given an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card which looks exactly like a debit card!

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Planning a Community Food System?

What community personnel and resources are you overlooking?

The recent emergence and increased demand for local food provides an opportunity for urban and rural communities to discuss and connect around issues of health, food access and security, local economies, and ways to integrate good food from farm –or urban homestead– to table more effectively and efficiently.

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Greater Availability and Accessibility of Good Local Food

For Virginians to eat foods produced and processed as close to their homes as possible can we encourage movement and momentum towards a goal of 10% local food production and consumption in the next 5 to 7 years.

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