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.

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

 

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.

 

Farming and Community: A conversation with David Kline

“The true test of a sustainable agriculture will be whether we can romance our children into farming. In order for that to occur three things are crucial: 1. Our farms must be profitable; 2. We cannot be overwhelmed by work all the time, and; 3. It must be fun.” ~ David Kline, Letters from Larksong: An Amish Naturalist Explores His Organic Farm

Virginia Cooperative Extension, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, and community partners have planned a conversation with David Kline for those interested in farming and community for Tuesday, December 2, 2014 from 6:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at Blue Ridge Community College’s Plecker Workforce Center in Weyers Cave, Virginia as part of this year’s Virginia Farm to Table Conference. David Kline will discuss organic dairy farming, community, nature, place, and care of the earth.

If you are unable to attend Tuesday evening, David Kline will also be a featured speaker Wednesday morning as part of the full 2014 Virginia Farm to Table Conference.

1891133_10204567046563773_8801974184919159611_nDavid Kline is an organic dairy farmer, naturalist and author. He and his family live on a 120-acre farm in Holmes County, Ohio. He has authored several books including Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer’s Journal, Scratching the Woodchuck: Nature on an Amish Farm, Letters From Larksong: An Amish Naturalist Explores His Organic Farm and other essays. Kline is also editor of Farming Magazine: People, Land Community.

We kindly request that you register by calling the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Northern District Office at (540) 432-6029 Ext. 106/117 before November 28. The cost of this community event is $15.

More details about the evening conversation and the 2014 Virginia Farm to Table Conference can be found at http://conference.virginiafarmtotable.org/

Directions to Blue Ridge Community College Plecker Workforce Center: From I-81, take Exit 235. Turn to go west at the top of the exit ramp (Rte. 256). In a very short distance, Rte. 256 ends onto Rte. 11. Turn left at the stoplight, Rte. 11 South. BRCC is about a half-mile on the left. Parking for the Plecker Workforce Center may be accessed by using the south entrance, beside the Criminal Justice Training Academy.

Videos of Soil Health Principles and Farmer Testimonials

Soil Health Principles:

Healthy Soil for a Healthy World by Dr. Jill Clapperton of Rhizoterra at the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health. February, 2014.

Science and Biology of Soil Health by Dr. Kristine Nichols, Soil Scientist, USDA-Agricultural Research Service as a keynote presentation at the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health. February, 2014.

Soil Health and NPK by Dr. Rick Haney of USDA-Agricultural Research Service as a presentation at the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health. February, 2014.

The Road to Soil Health: Principles for Farming and Ranching in the 21st Century by Ray Archuleta, Soil Health Specialist, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service at the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health. February, 2014.

Farmer Testimonials:

Gabe Brown of Brown’s Ranch in North Dakota talks about cover cropping and the regeneration of his farm’s soils for long-term profitability.

Ray Gaesser of Gaesser Farming is a soybean farmer from Iowa and is a cover crop innovator.

Steve Groff of Cedar Meadow Farm in Pennsylvania. Cedar Meadow Farm is a diversified vegetable farm that utilizes no-till production and multi-species cover cropping systems.

Under Cover Farmers  by Dr. Robin “Buz” Kloot of the University of South Carolina in collaboration with USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service East National Technology Support Center in Greensboro, NC.

Harvesting a multi-species cover crop.

Harvesting a multi-species cover crop.

Save the Date! 2014 Virginia Farm-to-Table Conference

Please save the date and spread the word about the upcoming 2014 Virginia Farm-to-Table Conference and In-Depth Soil Biology Training with Dr. Elaine Ingham scheduled for Tuesday, December 2 and Wednesday, December 3, 2014, at Blue Ridge Community College’s Plecker Workforce Center in Weyers Cave, Virginia, and Thursday, December 4, 2014 at Virginia State University’s Douglas Wilder Building in Petersburg, Virginia.  The conference theme is ‘Nutrition, Health and Sustainability from the Ground Up’ and will be featuring an in-depth soil biology training for two days in two locations.

A fresh heirloom tomato.

A fresh heirloom tomato.

The in-depth soil biology training will be led by Dr. Elaine Ingham of the Soil Food Web and coordinated by Chris Lawrence of USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The conference will be of interest to producers, buyers, school and university officials, community and agricultural development officers, legislators, administrators, and other key food system stakeholders. The conference will encourage collaboration, conservation and community in strengthening community, local and regional food systems.

On Tuesday afternoon and evening, there will be a Buy Fresh Buy Local Producer/Buyer Meet-n-Greet as a networking time. The Meet-n-Greet will be from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. and encourage business conversation and networking among Virginia producers and buyers, and will celebrate locally-grown Virginia foods.

Mr. David Kline will speak after the networking time on the topic of ‘Farming, Community, Nature, Place and Care for the Earth.’

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Dr. Elaine Ingham – Soil Food Web and the The Rodale Institute
  • Ms. Ann Karlen – Executive Director of Fair Food Farmstand
  • Dr. Amy Tucker – Preventative Cardiologist, University of Virginia Health System
  • David Kline – Author, naturalist and organic dairy farmer
  • Dr. Elizabeth Dyck – Founder, Organic Grower’s Research and Information Sharing Network
  • Mr. Jack Bricker – State Conservationist, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Dr. Brian Calhoun – Associate Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension
  • Dr. Allen Straw – Area Specialist, Horticulture, Small Fruit, & Specialty Crops, Virginia Tech
  • Mr. Clif Slade – Virginia State University’s 43,560 Project and VSU Small Farm Outreach Program
  • Mr. Chris Lawrence – Cropland Agronomist, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Mr. Chris Mullins – Extension Specialist, Greenhouse and Specialty Crops, VSU
  • Mr. Danny Boyer – Owner, Four Winds Farm
  • Mr. Eric Walter – Owner, Black Bear Composting
  • Ms. Andrea Early – School Nutrition Director, Harrisonburg City Public Schools
  • Mr. Rick Felker – Owner, Mattawoman Creek Farms
  • Ms. Amy Hicks – Owner, Amy’s Garden
  • And others.

For more information about the 2014 Virginia Farm-to-Table Conference and Buy Fresh Buy Local Meet-n-Greet, you can contact Eric Bendfeldt or Lauren Arbogast of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Northern District Office at 540.432.6029 Ext. 106/117 or Kathy Holm of USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service at 540.434.1404.

More conference and registration information is available at 2014 Virginia Farm to Table Conference.

Good Food: Sustainably and Intensively

As we think about the production of good food and how to do that more sustainably and intensively, maintaining good soil cover to prevent erosion and promote soil health will be critical! Here are a few pictures of vegetable and fruit production with cover crops in the Shenandoah Valley!

Tomatoes under plastic and with cover crops.

Tomatoes under plastic and with cover crops.

Intensively managed tomatoes and cover cropping to prevent erosion

Intensively managed tomatoes and cover cropping to prevent erosion

Good cover crop residue to keep the vegetables clean.

Good cover crop residue to keep the vegetables clean.

Good residue management is key!

Good residue management is key!

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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