Another great VALOR Class IV seminar to a part of VA that I rarely frequent, but oh so full of agriculture and history.
The first stop of Seminar VII was Omega Protein. Before an outdoor tour of the plant and one of their fishing vessels, we watched an informative video explaining the multi-generational company Omega Protein is – how fathers, grandfathers and sons work side by side in a business their families help build in the Bay area. It reminded me of the family ties my own area had to the operations that call Highland County home – its fun, and reassuring, to find these correlations to family and work ethic mirrored in different parts of the state. Most of Omega’s business comes from the harvesting and refining of the menhaden fish oil, and fish meal is sold as a fertilizer and feed ingredient. The only fish captured by Omega Protein IS menhaden that are at least two years in age; younger fish don’t have the oil content needed and therefore menhaden aren’t “over harvested” as once thought (see article here). Menhaden is an oily fish, with specialized oil pockets on its body, and is rather bony, so its not a desirable fish for eating. But its a good fish for baiting crab pots which we’ll get to later! This was most likely the fish Native Americans refer to placing at the roots of their crops for fertilizer as it decomposes fast and provides essential nutrients to the plant.
Our next wayside stop was with PJ Hainey at one of his corn fields where he was harvesting. He explained the importance of Ag in the Northern Neck area and how important it was to be an agricultural advocate in your locality to help educate consumers about where their food originates and what it takes to get it to their plate. After our visit with PJ we were invited to dinner at the Northern Neck Farm Museum where we were served a lovely dinner by Farm Credit.
Our next day included stops at Rappahannock Oyster Company and Northern Neck Technical Center. Rappahannock Oyster Company was started by a set of cousins from Richmond (who had oyster farming in their family history, and were encouraged to leave it there). But the cousins didn’t listen very well, bought a bait shop and fired up a gas grill to start a ‘tasting room’, and turned a 1000-oyster-harves-a-year to an over 8 million oyster harvest operation, supplying quality Bay oysters nationwide. I thought “our kind of farming” was hard, but the process of oyster farming is intense in management, labor and time. But it was good to hear the success of the business as well as the manager, who has been working for the company since inception, and was also a Ferrum College graduate like myself. Patrick, the manager, stated the learning curve was steep but by digging his heels into the business and diving into the industry to learn best practices, its been a beneficial and educational journey.
While at the Northern Neck Technical Center (NNTC), we were serve a dinner prepared by the culinary class, of which ingredients came from Garner’s Produce , a 110 acre produce farm that we visited later. Its good to know a place like NNTC exists for the 5-county area it supports as it prepares the next generation of youth for the workforce and post-secondary educational opportunities.
The next day we loaded up on the Mary P for Port Isobel Island Environmental Center for the day/night. While there we baited and set crab pots (with menhaden as pictured earlier), baited and set some other observational pots, enjoyed lunch with fellows, made a trip into “town” over on Tangier Island, made supper as a cohort and invited the Mayor of Tangier over for the meal, and then dove into a session on vulnerability during professional development time. The most enjoyable part of this portion of the trip was “island time” – things happen when they happen. Our educators Captain Michael, Morgan and Rachel would watch the tide, conduct our activities as the weather and environment allowed. We enjoyed each other’s company during sunsets and sunrises.
My final thoughts on this trip are similar to others – those of us in Ag are passionate about what we do and we only want what’s best for our environment. We strive to make the place in which we work and live a safe and sustainable environment for the generations currently living in them as well as those who come after us. If farmers, as well as consumers, don’t take care of the resources we have today, they won’t be here for us to enjoy, or derive our income from, tomorrow. Businesses, and farms, have to be smart about their environmental decisions for the sustainability of their own future, as well as others it may affect (employees, children, adjoining landowners and water users, etc.). We are all in this together, and it will take each and every one of us to make this ship sail.