I did not grow up on a farm. At the time, I didn’t even know if I was near one. As a child, I always thought a large parking lot was about as wide open a space as anybody needed (for skateboarding, of course), and when we’d drive past large tracts of pasture or hay fields on the way to visit family I was convinced that large farms were just somewhere you passed on the way to see your Grandparents. The first time I sat in a John Deere was in my early twenties. Five years later I learned what people meant by “row crops.” Little by little, then, I began to get my agricultural education, although in a rather roundabout way.
I began working in wine production at a young age. While I ultimately worked in a number of regions around the world, Virginia struck me as particularly exciting because the industry is young and there is still much to establish and prove. We can make great wine here, and as I dug deeper into the how of this endeavor, I found myself more and more connected to our soils, our geography, our topography and winding hills, our seasons, our weather. From there I got to know our tractor repair crews, our co-ops, our ag banking reps, our myriad industry associations, our land leases, crop insurance, weather data systems, agronomists, soil structures, and on and on and on. I started in the wine cellar and emerged out into the Virginia countryside.
I have worked in vineyards and wineries in Virginia since 2004. My day-to-day life is spent monitoring aging wines, pruning, forklifting barrels, managing spreadsheets, tending vines. The more I’ve learned about and progressed through the industry, the more challenging and exciting I’ve found it to be to help create regional sustainability, both in terms of business models that allow for thriving growers and wineries as well as the quality and authenticity required to compete on a national market. I know Virginia can produce wines of substance and quality, and I have found it to be a satisfying intellectual challenge to hopefully be a part of pushing things in a positive direction.
The more I’ve dug into what this really means, the more I’ve come to believe that in order to continue doing the work I love I have to be sure of the sustainability of our local agriculture – not just wine, but all of it – and that there needs to be a general confidence that it is not just the farmers, but the entire population, who believes in the importance of utilizing land in order to nourish and improve our daily lives. And that, in essence, is how I found myself connected with VALOR.
VALOR is a unique, inspiring program offering opportunities otherwise unavailable to most anyone hoping to influence or be a part of agriculture on a large scale. I am honored and excited to be a part of VALOR program Class 3. I am aware that I have much more to learn from rather than offer to the group; however, I have a passion for Virginia and the people and industries that make it beautiful and vibrant, and I know there are methods through which I can use my experience to further these industries.
And, just for fun, an action shot: