Category Archives: Policy

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!

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.

 

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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Healthier Communities through Good Food Policy

Do we really need more laws and regulations or can we promote healthier communities through sound effective food policy?

As different projects, programs and initiatives are developed around Virginia and the country to address obstacles, challenges and needed change in the food system, communities and states are evaluating policies that can affect and inform change.

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