Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!

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!

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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Encouraging Better Nutrition for Individuals and Families: SNAP Resources

Guest post by Karen Kappert

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is a government-funded initiative aimed at preventing hunger and encouraging better nutrition. SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low income individuals and families. SNAP can be used like a debit card to buy eligible food items from authorized retailers – once accepted, you will be given an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card which looks exactly like a debit card!

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Making Sense: Strengthening Local Communities and Economies

Guest post by Karen Kappert

At the Virginia 2012 Farm to Table Conference, ideas on how to create sustainable and profitable local businesses were discussed and imagined. The following summarizes some of that information and provides an overview of how to encourage local investment, plus information on resources that are available in Virginia for small businesses.

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