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Cleaning Waterways Helps Farmers

Swamp Stomp

Volume 16, Issue 52

In the mountains of Luray, in the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley, David Sours’ is one of many produce farms located in the Shenandoah and Rappahannock river watersheds which is benefiting from a grant supporting farm-to-table connections.

“Everybody believes local food is an easy thing and take it for granted but it is complicated, especially on the distribution side,” said Dale Gardner, field scientist and value chain facilitator. “People don’t realize how labor intensive it is.”

Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture looks over the program which works to encourage best practices on farms in the northern area of the state.  Another program run by Virginia Tech is the “Virginia Market Ready Farm to Restaurant Workshop” which is open to farmers and producers all across Virginia.

Eric Bendfeldt, extension specialist, community viability, at Virginia Cooperative Extension, said, “Part of what we do is address how to build capacity for farmers to enter the restaurant and institution markets.”

Dale Gardner is tasked with improving the health of waterways by finding common ground around water quality improvements, soil quality, and farm-to-table relationships.  He is the primary contact working with farmers who grow produce, although “many of the same issues apply to livestock farmers,” he said.

The grant is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and was awarded to Virginia Tech.  The grant is based on “the premise that helping farmers – or “producers” of agricultural products – to adopt and implement Best Management Practices (BMP’s) will ultimately improve their ability to access and retain a wider array of sustainability-minded distributors and consumers and become more profitable” (Farmers…).

Bendfeldt said, “The grant helps them encourage restaurants, institutions, and the general public to work with producers to buy local and regional food from farmers who are also good environmental stewards.”

“We’ve worked with more than 20 farmers who are adopting or developing continuous improvement plans to reduce nutrients and sediment from leaving their farm and entering waterways,” Bendfeldt said. “The overall goal is to create a culture of conservation from the farm-to-the-table so it’s a win for producers, consumers, businesses.”

This approach is a work in promise and the hope is that it will be used as a model for other areas to start their own sustainable food system and make this a commitment for all.  Bendfeldt said, “In the workshop we emphasize that you have to differentiate yourself in some way, through a brand, or label, or in telling your story. Are you a third or fourth generation farmer? Tell about the BMP’s you have installed and what you are doing to protect water quality and how you are being a good water steward.”

Farmer David Sours believes the improvements he made on his farm, especially strip tilling aimed at reducing soil erosion, resulted in “substantial economic impact for the good—it has reduced labor for us and has made some of my crops a little more economically feasible.”

Do you agree with the premise of the grant?  Do you think more communities should be focused on creating a sustainable food system?

Source: “Farmers Find Cleaning Waterways Can Help The Bottom Line.” The Roanoke Star. The Roanoke Star, 02 Nov. 2016. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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