Small farm conference spotlights women and veterans

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(Courtesy of New Earth Farm in Virginia Beach, Va.)

(Courtesy of New Earth Farm in Virginia Beach, Va.)

Virginia Beach will be filled with supporters of small farms this week.

More than 600 stakeholders, including industry researchers and officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will gather at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, 1000 19th St., for the seventh National Small Farm Conference. The event, slated to run from Sept. 20-22, aims to address the challenges and needs of small farmers. The conference will feature presentations on current research and success stories about small farming; this year’s emphasis is on women and youth in agriculture, farmworkers, immigrants, socially disadvantaged producers and returning veterans.

“There’s no other place you can hear and see what people with a similar mission as you are doing except for here” Michelle Olgers, director of marketing and communications for Virginia Cooperative Extension, said in a phone interview. The extension is a co-sponsor of the event, along with USDA and Virginia State University’s College of Agriculture.

This is the first time the small farm conference is being held in Virginia Beach. It has previously been hosted in Tennessee, Nebraska and North Carolina. Topics to be covered include organic production, industry tips and marketing challenges, Olgers said. Attendees will learn how these issues are being addressed elsewhere in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Discussion will also address challenges specifically facing youth, women and veteran farmers, Olgers said, such as marketing on a tight budget with little free time.

Younger farmers in Virginia Beach have been on the increase over the past eight years, according to David Trimmer, director of the Virginia Beach Department of Agriculture. He has seen a number of local family farmers garner the support of their children, who go off to attend college and return with a desire to farm, he said. He cited Cromwell’s Produce, 3116 New Bridge Rd., and Land of Promise Farms on Land of Promise Road as a few examples of such family farms.

Hampton Roads is an appealing location to farmers right now, Trimmer added.

“Now I think the people want to be in Hampton Roads, and be business leaders,” he said.

Virginia Beach offers a range of resources to farmers, he said. One of these is the Virginia Cooperative Extension, 2449 Princess Anne Rd., which provides education programs on subjects such as agriculture, natural resources and consumer sciences. The Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center, 1444 Diamond Springs Rd., provides agricultural research on the state.

The conference will also include a four-stop tour highlighting how the region studies, grows and markets food for Virginia Beach residents. Tour stops include: the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Virginia Beach Farmers Market, Whole Foods Market and New Earth Farm, 1885 Indian River Rd., a sustainable local farm.

Small farms are defined by the USDA as those whose gross cash income from farming is less than $350,000, according to a release sent by Olgers.

The nation’s small farmers produce half the country’s poultry and hay, and the smallest farms tend to experience the most financial issues, the release said. Events like the conference in the city, which help to support and sustain small farms, are important, Olger said.

As the world population grows, there will be a need for small farm strategies, like smart use of land space, Olger said.

“In our lifetime, we’ll have to double our food production,” Olger said. To do that means “more food on a smaller amount of land – this is really important,” she said.

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