Dr. Leonard Githinji, VSU’s Urban Agriculture Extension Specialist, is spearheading the new academic-based certification program to help urban farmers and educators successfully grow safe food in an urban environment, while increasing their marketability in this growing field.
Urban agriculture is hot. And for good reason. It can help alleviate urban food deserts, make our food as “local” and fresh as possible and decrease the “food miles” associated with long-distance transportation. From rooftop gardens and aquaponics centers in converted warehouses, to growing crops on abandoned properties, urban agriculture provides a wide range of community benefits, including closer neighborhood ties, reduced crime, education and job training opportunities, and healthy food access for low-income residents.
“That’s why,” say’s Dr. Leonard Githinji, Virginia State University’s Urban Agriculture Extension Specialist, “It’s no wonder we’re seeing a huge increase in the number of urban farms from Brooklyn to Boise and everywhere in between.”
But training hasn’t kept up with demand for these urban cowboys. As Githinji explains, a lot of non-profits, churches, businesses and municipalities are putting a great deal of resources into getting urban farms up and running. So much so that last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published an Urban Agriculture Toolkit to provide informational resources to these group leaders, many of whom have never farmed before or know a nematode from a horned toad. (For the record, a nematode is parasitic worm that often causes damage to garden crops like tomatoes and peppers. A horned toad is actually a desert lizard.)
But there’s a lot to learn, he explains, from business planning, legal issues and market development to soil quality, pest management and plant health. And while an online tool kit is a great resource, we need more science-based, boots-on-the-ground training for these urban pioneers.
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Dr. Donald Palm (left), VSU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, shakes hands with Dr. M. Ray McKinnie on the announcement of his appointment as Virginia State University’s new College of Agriculture dean and 1890s administrator.
Dr. M. Ray McKinnie, who has been serving as the Interim Dean and 1890 Extension Administrator of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University, has been formally appointed to the position. The appointment is effective immediately.
McKinnie, who arrived at VSU in July 2015 to serve as assistant administrator of Extension programs in the College of Agriculture, stepped into the interim dean position two months later after the resignation of Dean Jewel Hairston.
“Dr. McKinnie’s outstanding leadership during this past year that he’s served as interim dean has already benefited Virginia State University as a whole and its College of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Research Station in particular,” said Dr. Donald Palm, VSU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. “He has left no doubt in my mind he will continue to direct the college to even greater accomplishments and help VSU embrace its role as a top land-grant university.” Palm also cited McKinnie’s vision for the department, his passion for student success and his commitment to faculty and staff development as key factors in the selection process.
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More than 700 agricultural leaders from across the country will gather in Virginia Beach September 20-22 to identify ways to secure the future success of our nation’s small farms and ranches, numbers of which have been dwindling for decades, while the number of very large farms has seen rapid growth.
The conference specifically focuses on small farmers because of the vital role they play in the national economy, environmental sustainability, local (agro-) biodiversity, and landscape and cultural heritage. Yet they face unique challenges that set them apart from mid-size or large farming operations.
According to the USDA, a small farm is any farm whose gross cash farm income is less than $350,000. Farms who generate more than that annually are considered commercial farms. A whopping 89 percent of U.S. farms are considered small and operate nearly half of the country’s farmland, however those farms account for only 22 percent of agricultural production in the U.S.
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Suziblue’ blueberries grown in a high tunnel at Randolph Farm. Photo taken May 10, 2016.
Growing blueberries, in an unheated greenhouse called a high tunnel, may be a good alternative for Virginia growers. Some early blueberry varieties with low chill requirements can take advantage of the high tunnel conditions and produce high quality berries very early in the season when demand for locally grown berries is high. In a high tunnel at Virginia State University’s Randolph Farm, several southern highbush varieties are producing higher quality fruit that are two to three weeks earlier than the same varieties grown in the field.
If you need additional information about growing blueberry in the field or in the high tunnel, contact:
Reza Rafie, email@example.com, 804-712-4600
Chris Mullins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 804-543-2559
VSU becomes first HBCU licensed to teach USDA/FSA Agribusiness Production and Financial Management Program
Ettrick, Va. – Until last year, Virginia farmers applying for a USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan were required to take an on-line Agribusiness Production and Financial Management Program offered by private companies for $300-$600. The program offers valuable financial management and crop production skills aimed at boosting farm profitability and income, but many farmers find it costly and inconvenient to take online.
Three years ago, representatives from FSA and Virginia State University’s Small Farm Outreach Program, a Virginia Cooperative Extension program, met to discuss a better way to assist Virginia farmers in meeting the mandatory FSA financial and production management borrower training requirements. Both organizations agreed that the current process could use improving.
“Many farmers don’t like the idea of taking online courses, let alone in the evening after putting in a day in the field,” said Mike Wooden, assistant director, VSU Small Farm Outreach Program. “It was hard for them to wrap their minds around balance sheets, cash flow and marketing principles after putting in a full day’s work.”
As a result of that meeting, Virginia State University (VSU) applied to FSA to be a licensed program vendor, or teacher. The University met the criteria and was approved two years ago to administer the course, making it the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to be certified in teaching the FSA’s Agribusiness Production and Financial Management Program. In addition, VSU applied for and received from the FSA a three-year grant in the amount of $250,000 to administer the program, which is designed especially for limited resource farmers.
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