Monthly Archives: March 2014

Meet Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market.

100_0810 (1024x768)Stop by the Amelia County fairgrounds on a Tuesday afternoon and you will be met by a colorful array of fresh vegetables, canned jams and preserves, bright flowers, and plenty of flavorful homemade foods and local goods. For the past few years, Amelia has gone without a permanent, centralized farmers’ market, and most people had to travel to on-farm stands or more distant markets in the nearby region to purchase locally-grown foods.  Thanks to a collaboration between several churches, a board of motivated community leaders, and numerous county supporters, the Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market came together in the spring of 2013, and after a successful season-long run, it is set to open for an extended season in 2014, running from 4-7 PM at the fairgrounds from April 1st through the end of October.

100_0813 (1024x768)Why the name “Barter Town?” Consumers and vendors have the option to buy, sell, and trade goods and services. In 2013, it was not uncommon to see trades between vendors and consumer for eggs, vegetables, plants, and other goods. For-sale items like local breads, vegetables, cheeses, jams, sausage, plants, crafts, and herbal products retained their popularity each week.

100_0823 (1024x768)Due to their proximity to buyers in Richmond and its suburbs, Amelia and its neighboring counties are also home to numerous “direct-to-market” farmers who sell goods straight to consumers through venues like Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions, or CSAs, as well as on-farm stores and stands and weekly markets across the region.

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100_0827 (1024x768)Not all of the region’s farm operations are suited to local face-to-face marketing. For example, some crop producers may rely on contracts with grain buyers, and other farms may supply to wholesale outlets or custom buyers. However, direct marketing is the bread and butter for many small-scale, specialty, and niche crop producers in this region as well as many new and beginning farmers who have a diverse set of goods but produce small amounts of each. Even though most direct-market operations sell their products through multiple outlets and go to markets several days of week, close-to-home markets like Barter Town allow producers to keep some of their goods inside the county and serve their own neighbors within the community.

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Local residents took to the stage each week to provide music for customers at Barter Town.

Last year’s inaugural summer season at Barter Town market drew crowds each evening even during the hottest summer days for a time of conversation, community, shopping, and enjoyment of the many musical performances that took place each week. The market also featured some food samples, food preparation demonstrations, and a weekly contest for prizes in categories such as “Ugliest Vegetable” or “Cutest Pet Photo.” Many participants also took part in the “$10 Pledge” campaign offered state-wide by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which offered customers a chance to win prizes for spending  $10 each week at local markets and keeping track of purchases using a loyalty card. Because Barter Town exists to serve the community rather than make a profit, support from consumers and community sponsors last year played a vital role in the market’s success as it came off the ground. 

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FFA youth, who participate in agricultural education, sold locally-produced honey last season to support their activities.

Barter Town is just one of the many up-and-coming markets in central and southside Virginia contributing to the growth of “direct marketing” of agricultural goods. Thanks to an increased interest in local foods, small-scale and specialty producers are able to use markets to extend their reach in the community, build a steady supply of willing customers, and make an impact on the local economy. Furthermore, these markets provide a valuable venue for growers and buyers to meet face-to-face to discuss farm production practices and build confidence in the agricultural industry. Barter Town is one of many markets in Virginia proving that great things happen when a community has a vested interest in its own health and success and a motivation to preserve and enhance local agriculture.

100_0840 (1024x768)Additional Resources for Readers

Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market Webpage

Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market Facebook Page

 Resources for finding local foods near you, including farm stands, subscription services, CSAs, cooperatives, and markets:

  •    Buy Fresh Buy Local Directory: You can also pick up a printed Buy Fresh Buy Local guide for your locality by visiting your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.
  •   There are numerous other places you can find local foods, including sites such as Local Harvest.
  •  A note to farm and food producers: Sites like this offer free advertising. Visit them for information about adding your listing, or seek help through your local Virginia Cooperative Extension agent.


Meet Copenhaver Sheep Center

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100_1475 (2) (1024x768)Named for retired animal science professor Jack Copenhaver, the center is located on the edge of Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus and has served as a teaching and research facility for years. Visitors who walk into the main barn in late winter will be greeted with the sight of ewes and newborn lambs, and the center’s pastures adjacent to Smithfield Road give the surrounding community a taste of the daily routine for livestock operations.

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100_1402 (1024x768)Copenhaver Sheep Center is home to a flock of Dorset sheep, which are white in color, and Suffolk sheep, which have white bodies and black faces and legs. Although these breeds produce wool, they are primarily used for meat production. The flocks at Copenhaver have been carefully selected to create lambs, rams, and ewes that are useful for teaching and research and appealing to individuals in the sheep industry. A flock of hair sheep also resides at the farm comprised of St. Croix sheep and some similar crossbreds.  Unlike wool breeds like Dorsets and Suffolks, hair sheep originate from hot climates and have developed resistance and resilience to the harmful effects of parasites. This makes them valuable for research exploring parasite control in sheep and parasite resistance genes.

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100_1469 (1024x768)Dozens of undergraduate Animal Science students visit the center each semester for coursework in animal handling and livestock management. A senior-level livestock production course provides participants with hands-on industry experience at both Copenhaver Sheep Center and the neighboring beef center. Each spring, students are offered the opportunity to come to the facility and prepare an animal for the Little International showmanship contest hosted by Block and Bridle, an agricultural club for students.

100_1385 (1024x768)Furthermore, freshman in Animal Science partake in “lamb watch,” whereby each student is assigned a night to stay at the barn during lambing season in order to detect any birthing difficulties. Lambing season takes place primarily in the winter. Ewes and their newborn lambs are kept in individual pens in the barn, known as “lambing jugs,” to enhance maternal bonding and protect the offspring from the elements during their first days of life. Keeping the ewes in “jugs” also makes it easier for students and farm staff to monitor the health of the animals for several days post-lambing.

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Ewes are kept in “lambing jugs” for a several days so that they can bond with their offspring and be monitored by students and farm staff.

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While Copenhaver Sheep Center provides key learning opportunities for Virginia Tech’s 100_1429 (1024x768)students, the work done at the center is also valuable to the state’s industry and has elevated the reputation of the Virginia sheep industry over the past few decades. Research at the center focusing on genetics, parasite resistance, ultrasonic evaluation of body composition, and other relevant areas is important to producers who wish to employ the most up-to-date management practices. Buyers seek rams and ewes from the Copenhaver Sheep Center at the annual production sale held on campus on Labor Day Weekend. Rams from the center are consigned into the Virginia Ram Lamb Performance Test Sale. These sales offer suitable breeding animals to buyers the industry, as any rams that are offered must pass a breeding soundness exam and meet standards for structure, type, and quality.

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Photo credit: Deanna Bradley

100_1367 (2) (1024x768)Besides serving the industry with high-quality animals and important research and providing a venue for students to learn about animal management, Copenhaver Sheep Center has also helped Virginia Tech reach its goal of serving locally-produced food in its dining halls. Students have the opportunity to purchase lamb and other meats harvested from the campus farms from the Farms and Fields Project in Owens Food Court.

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While not every Virginia Tech undergraduate will visit the center for coursework, the many students and Blacksburg residents who walk daily past the sheep grazing in the fields catch a glimpse of a facility with a rich past that has made a lasting impression on the state’s industry and family sheep producers.

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Photo credit: Deanna Bradley

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   Additional Resources for Readers:

Copenhaver Sheep Center

Virginia Tech Sheep Extension

Useful Virginia Cooperative Extension Sheep and Goat Publications