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Principles and policies for nourishing natural resource conservation

An overarching goal of Virginia’s farm-to-table effort is to cultivate deeper, more meaningful relationships with farmers and the broader community so people better understand the challenges and realities of today’s farming, particularly on a community, local, and regional level. To achieve this goal, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and educational partners like USDA- Natural Resources Conservation ServiceSoil and Water Conservation Districts, and Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), work to nourish collaboration and conservation to make farming profitable, durable, sustainable, and resilient. With farming and local agriculture on a good solid footing, rural and urban communities supported and dependent on farming will be more durable, sustainable, and resilient.

An educational workshop on soil and water conservation in vegetable production (Courtesy of USDA).

An important element of this collaboration is the conservation of critical natural resources such as soil, water, air, and wildlife habitat. In a recent journal article, researchers and scientists of the Soil and Water Conservation Society shared eight broad principles and policies for soil and water conservation (Manale et al., 2018). The principles and policies were developed and shared to educate and inform the farm and conservation-related legislation being considered in the 2018 Farm Bill. The principles and policies are as follows:

  1. Agricultural soil, water, and associated wildlife and ecosystem resources must be sustainably managed for future generations.
  2. Sustainable stewardship of agricultural lands depends upon scientifically sound research and effective communication.
  3. Healthy soils are productive and resilient soils.
  4. Wetlands and floodplains are essential to long-term resource sustainability.
  5. Farm bills should incentivize farmers and utilities to protect drinking water.
  6. Conservation of agricultural lands should not conflict with wildlife conservation.
  7. An informed public is necessary for sustainable management of soil, water, and associated wildlife and ecosystem resources.
  8. Responsible conservation management demands accountability.

In sharing these eight principles and policies, the hope is to nourish deeper conversations around ecologically sound soil and water conservation and cultivate ongoing collaboration to benefit Virginia agriculture and communities.

For the full article and additional information, please visit the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation and link here.

References:

Manale, A., Sharpley, A., DeLong, C., Speidel, D., Gantzer, C., Peterson, J., Martin, R., Lindahl, C., &  Adusumilli, N. (2018). Principles and policies for soil and water conservation. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 73(4), 96A-99A. https://doi.org/10.2489/jswc.73.4.96A

 

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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Register Now for the 2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference!

The 2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference will be of interest to producers, buyers, community and agricultural development officials, policymakers, educators, technical service providers, and food system stakeholders.

This year’s event features a pre-conference tour, along with diverse presentations from national and state experts and practitioners on the practical applications of soil and water health; finding leverage and your niche; local food for all; building a solid business foundation; nutrition and community health; opportunities for military veteran farmers; food system leadership and development; collective impact and local food system level change initiatives.

Registration for the conference is being coordinated in partnership with Blue Ridge Community College’s Workforce and Continuing Education program. Therefore, you will be directed to Blue Ridge Community College’s website as if you were enrolling in a course.

The EARLY BIRD RATE of $40 per day for registration is available through November 30, 2016.  The regular registration rate of $60 per day will apply after November 30, 2016.

Please note the Early Bird Discount will be applied once the courses are added to your shopping cart on the Blur Ridge Community College enrollment site!

If you encounter any problems during the registration process and have questions, please contact BRCC Workforce and Continuing Education at 540-453-2215.

 

2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference Schedule and Registration Now Available!

We hope you have your calendars marked and plan to attend the 2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference. The most up-to-date conference schedule is available!

The program will be updated as needed in the coming weeks. Registration links are available at http://conference.virginiafarmtotable.org/register/

flyer-cFor registration, Virginia Cooperative Extension is working closely with Blue Ridge Community College’s Workforce and Continuing Education to strengthen the college’s efforts and course offerings in the area of agriculture and farm-to-table careers.

 

Common Ground: Growing Money and Soil at Potomac Vegetable Farms

Can Virginia farmers find common ground around the issue of soil health and the management of core principles for better soil function and performance?

Understanding and building your farm’s soil resource is critical for productivity, profitability and sustainability. Of course, soils have inherent and dynamic properties that affect the function and performance of soils. Like a personal bank account, good farmers and producers seek to manage the dynamic processes by making soil health-building deposits and minimizing withdrawals that are soil health-depleting.

At the 2015 Virginia Farm to Table Conference, Ellen Polishuk of Potomac Vegetable Farms shared how she and her colleagues work to grow money and soil with commercial vegetable production. The Common Ground Soil Health profile video below highlights the core principles she uses to build soil health and maintain a positive bank account.

Six (6) additional technical clips were developed in collaboration with Ellen Polishuk of Potomac Vegetable Farms, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Association for Biological Farming, and AE Media. The play list can be accessed at the following link: https://youtu.be/YnWJBegM4ZQ?list=PLuZ_HCbDlptObEcuqWaCkhYhiTS3CP0ua

The video and technical clips were produced as part of a USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) project entitled, Finding Common Ground: Healthy Farms from the Soil Up.

Strengthening Your Foodshed, Protecting Our Watersheds

By Lauren Arbogast and Eric Bendfeldt

You may be wondering: what is a foodshed? It seems like a new term, but the term was actually first coined in the late 1920s. Like the term ‘watershed’ and how it describes water flow in a region, the term ‘foodshed’ is used to describe where food is produced, transported and eventually consumed. Today, there is renewed interest in and analysis of the flow of food within and out of a region to encourage more localized economic activity and regional self-reliance.

To learn about foodsheds, watersheds and more, plan to attend the 2015 Virginia Farm to Table Conference. For the 4th year, Virginia Cooperative Extension, in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Research Education (SARE) and community partners, is pleased to present the Virginia Farm to Table Conference December 2 – 4, 2015 at Blue Ridge Community College, Weyers Cave, VA. The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Strengthening Your Foodshed, Protecting Our Watersheds.’

2015 conference header with speakers_2Proceed to Eventbrite site to register ONLINE

The conference will feature engaging and inspirational speakers with broad experience and knowledge of food, farming and the environment including Dr. Dennis Keeney of Keeney Place and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2014 James Beard Leadership Award Winner — Ms. Karen Washington of Rise and Root Farm, Dr. Chuck Benbrook of Benbrook Consulting Services and Mr. Robin Morris, Executive Director of Mad River Food Hub.

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.

Current panelists for the concurrent sessions include: Ellen Polishuk of Potomac Vegetable Farms, Bill Cox of Casselmonte Farm LLC , Dr. Mark Schonbeck of Abundant Dawn Community, Dr. Mike Strickland of Virginia Tech, M. James Faison of Milton’s Local, Duron Chavis of Virginia State University’s Harding Street Urban Agriculture, Derek Cunningham of Lynchburg Grows, Todd Niemeier of the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville , C.J. Isbell of Keenbell Farm, Erik Croushorn of Messick’s Farm Market, Ken Smith of MooThru, Rosalea Potter of Buffalo Creek Beef, Beth Schermerhorn of Harrisonburg EATs, Nikki D’Adamo-Damery of the Appalachian Foodshed Project, Elizabeth Theriault of Richmond Health Department, Eric Walter of Black Bear Composting, Andrea Early of Harrisonburg City Public Schools, Dr. Elena Serrano of Virginia Tech, Gary Larrowe of Carroll County Economic Development, Ben Sandel of Cooperative Development Services, Kathlyn Terry of Appalachian Sustainable Development, Jeff Heatwole of Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, and Ron Copeland of Our Community Place.

Additionally, there will be a pre-conference tour on Wednesday, December 2 for a close-up look at and discussion with Mt. Crawford Creamery, Friendly City Food Co-op, Rocktown Food Trucks, T & E Meats, and Showalter’s Orchard and Greenhouse and Old Hill Cider.

Register today to reserve your seat to strengthen your foodshed and protect our watersheds! https://goo.gl/xqX8z2

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!