Category Archives: Food System Planning, Management, and Policy

2018 Virginia Farm to Table Conference set for December 5 and 6

We hope you have your calendars marked and plan to attend the 2018 Virginia Farm to Table Conference. Virginia Cooperative Extension, in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation ServiceVirginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher CoalitionVirginia Sustainable Agriculture Research Education (SARE)Virginia Farm Bureau FederationVirginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), and community partners, present the seventh annual Virginia Farm to Table Conference on December 5 – 6, 2018 at Blue Ridge Community College’s Plecker Workforce Development Center in Weyers Cave, VA.

Speakers and panelists will address and share their experiences about the microbial roots of life and health, agricultural behavioral health, food security, food and farm justice, growing their market, food system development, silvopasture, agroforestry, and intensive greenhouse and high tunnel production!

The conference planning committee is pleased to have Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring open the conference on Day 1. Dr. Ed Jones director of Virginia Cooperative Extension and Jack Bricker state conservationist of Virginia’s USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service will kick-off Day 2 with a discussion about collaboration and working together.

The conference planning committee has put together a good core of speakers and has made significant progress on the agenda.  Trainers and speakers who may be of interest to you and your organization include these experts:

  • Dr. Mike Rosmann, Clinical Psychologist of Agricultural Behavioral Health and fourth generation farmer from Harlan, Iowa
  • The Reverend Dr. Heber Brown III, Senior Pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church and founder of the Black Church Food Security Network in Baltimore, Maryland
  • Dr. David Montgomery, Professor of Geomorphology at the University of Washington and author of Dirt: The erosion of civilizations, The hidden half of nature: The microbial roots of life and health, and A growing revolution: Bringing our soil back to life
  • Anne Bikle, Biologist and Landscape Architect of Dig2Grow and co-author of The hidden half of nature: The microbial roots of life and health
  • Michael Reilly, Co-founder and Executive Director of Slow Money Central Virginia
  • Dr. Elsa Sanchez, Professor of Horticultural Systems Management at Penn State University
  • Dr. Beth Gugino, Associate Professor of Vegetable Pathology at Penn State University
  • Hana Newcombe, Co-owner of Potomac Vegetable Farms
  • Steve Gabriel, Co-founder of Wellspring Forest Farm and agroforestry specialist with Cornell University Extension and author of Silvopasture and Farming in the Woods
  • Mark Dempsey, Farm Services Coordinator of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
  • Patryck Battle, Gardener and Cook of Living Web Farms
  • Kirk Ballin, Program Coordinator of AgrAbility Virginia
  • Beth O’Connor, Executive Director of Virginia Rural Health  Association
  • Karen Tanner, Extension Agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension

On Wednesday evening, there will be a public lecture and book signing with Dr. David Montgomery and Anne Bikle authors of Dirt: The erosion of civilizations, The hidden half of nature: The microbial roots of life and health, and A growing revolution: Bringing our soil back to life. An ice cream social and producer-buyer gathering will precede the public lecture.

More details about the conference will be coming soon but mark your calendars for December 5 and 6! You will be challenged and inspired!

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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.

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!