We’re one year into the VALOR experience, and I must say that it has been an extremely rewarding program. Over the last twelve months we’ve crossed the state at least three times and spent over two dozen nights on the road. We’ve met leaders in the industries of fabrication and mechanics, exports, pork production, food processing, vegetable production, dairy production, media relations, television, leadership training, government relations, fruit and wine production, and aquaculture, as well as legislators and government staff on the local, state, and federal levels.
Like all VALOR fellows, I am happy to share the stories of our travels to anyone that will listen. I’ve said many times that I thought I knew a great deal about Virginia Agriculture, until I started this program. I have learned that there is a great deal about the industry that I don’t know. My eyes have now been opened to a whole new world of experiences, including the many challenges and opportunities that exist in the industry. I also get lots of questions about the program. Where have we been? What have we seen? What has been the most unique experience? One question however, comes up more often than others…
“The program sounds great, but why would you spend so much time away from your family and work to do it?”
My answer is pretty simple, and it hasn’t changed much since last fall – Though the program does take me away, I am in the program to benefit my family and the job that I do.
Agriculture is a complex industry. Whether you like your food produced using organic, all-natural, or larger-scale methods, it still takes a farmer to do it. That farmer has always faced challenges from the weather and available markets, but there are new challenges that today’s farmer must face. From finding a qualified and competent work force to meeting more stringent environmental regulations and competing in a global marketplace, today’s farmer has a great deal to consider. There are dozens of examples, like Dana Boyle at Garner’s Produce, who is running a farm business that has to support multiple generations of her family. Other farmers are becoming more specialized in what they raise, to increase efficiency, and consequently they increase their dependance on other farmers to supply the other commodities they need to make the business work. Like all businesses, there is more paperwork and more oversight than ever before. Even with the world’s most abundant, least expensive, and safest food supply, the American farmer must also be more open to visitors and questions from neighbors and consumers. These issues can be daunting to resolve, but each provides and opportunity to improve and adapt to the desires of today’s customers.
As the VALOR fellows work toward “obtaining results”, and I personally work toward securing a future for my family, my career, and the agricultural industry that I love, there are challenges, but there are even more opportunities for success. I’m looking forward meeting those challenges, and to what the next year of VALOR has to offer!