What an amazing experience in the Northern Neck & Tangier Island! This was my first time to Tangier and I found the unique culture and way of life to be a breath of fresh air. As always we visited numerous locations and I had an opportunity to learn so much about aquaculture.
Our first stop was to Omega Protein in Reedville, VA, whose fishing fleet focuses on catching menhaden. They produce animal feed, dietary supplements, and fish oil. I knew very little about menhaden prior to this visit. We very quickly learned that Omega’s fishing practices have been under heavy scrutiny and their business has been effected by significant regulation. Much of the regulation has been due to the belief that the menhaden population is being depleted. More recent scientific studies have shown that the industry has not had an impact on menhaden. There seems to be conflicting information which parallels with many of the other agriculture industries we have visited. There seems to be a common theme of demonizing the industry without having complete information. As with all producers, they wish to be good stewards of the environment since it is dependent on their livelihood.
We also visited the Rappahannock Oyster Company. This was a wonderful visit as we saw how a family company that was waning was revived by the fourth generation. Oysters have been overharvested and wiped out from disease. The current company is focusing on farming the native oysters to hopefully revitalize the population. I had an opportunity to taste some of their delicious oysters for dinner.
Another large part of agriculture in the area are row crops. We had the pleasure of meeting JP Haynie and Dana Garner. Both are VT grads and went back to work on the family farm after graduating. JP has a huge operation and has focused on bringing technology and efficiencies to the business. Dana helped bring new ideas for opening a market and selling directly to restaurants. They even go to farmer’s markets in Northern Virginia were fresh local produce is in high demand. It was great to see a group of successful Hokies.
We spent the last part of the trip visiting Tangier Island. Our hosts were the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. This created an interesting opportunity for dialogue between environmentalists and producers. As someone who does not have an agriculture background this was a unique chance to hear both sides and see as with most things the truth lies in between both sides of the extremes. I hope to continue to learn more about this subject and will read more to continue to be more informed. We also had the opportunity for deep reflection was exactly what I needed and helped me to return to work with a renewed sense of focus. The group discussed the topic of vulnerability and what it means to share more of yourself in professional environments. Not only did it make me think more about how I can be more forthcoming in my relationships but it also allowed me to have more meaningful conversations with the other fellows.
I continue to be grateful for this experience and that I all those that are part of my personal and professional life have been supportive of this endeavor.