The VALOR trip to South Carolina and Georgia was a whirlwind and I learned so much. It has taken me some time to process all of the information I absorbed during our week long trip. It also gave me an opportunity to get to know the other fellows in a deeper way as it was our first extended trip together. The hospitality of our hosts was of the highest caliber and I will always have fond memories of our time. We saw some of the biggest operations in the country for peaches, onions, dairy products, etc. On the other end of the spectrum we met many first generation producers who have found success in a niche market.
One of the highlights of the trip was visiting Generation Farms to learn more about sweet onions. We went straight to the source in Vidalia, GA. Due to the special soil and weather in the area, there are only a few counties in Georgia that can use the authorized trademark for “Vidalia Onions”. The Commissioner of Agriculture regulates the season in which the onions are called Vidalia instead of just sweet onions. The facility was massive with the highest level of technology to grade and sort the produce. Most importantly we learned how to correctly pronounce Vie-Day-Yuh onions.
On the same day we had the privilege of visiting Comfort Farms in Milledgeville, GA. Comfort Farms provides care and treatment plans for veterans who are homeless, in need, and/or suffering from PTSD. The project was started by former Army Ranger, Jon Jackson. It was a very special experience as it was clear that the project has had a positive impact on so many lives. It seems that Agri-therapy could have applications in various settings to reintegrate individuals into society. An added bonus was the delicious meal we were served with meat and produce from the farm.
I look forward to applying my new knowledge from our southern neighbors to my role as a leader in Virginia. For the next seminar we will be discussing our individual concepts for a leadership project. I have been considering my role within the administration of Virginia Cooperative Extension and how I can develop a sustainable project to engage stakeholders who will be influential in resource development. I look forward to sharing this with the fellows as I value their opinions and believe their insight will increase my likelihood of success.