Growing up, I really believed my dad hung the moon. He always offers some of the very best advice, whether you ask for it or not. Some of the best nuggets of wisdom he’s shared over the years come from the challenges, troubles, toils and joys of farming and his connectedness to the land. He might never say it in those terms, but that’s what he means. Farmers have a unique perspective that is obviously valuable to the ag industry, but also to our society as a whole.
Our late autumn trip to the Eastern Shore and Eastern Virginia left me feeling inspired and encouraged by the perseverance, innovativeness, commitment…..resilience of every agriculturist we met. I heard in a leadership seminar the other day that it is important for leaders to remain positive in light of change. It was interesting to see that not one person was really focused on what they couldn’t control. Bad weather, tough prices, and COVID all have the real potential to derail our plans, but it was clear to me that everyone was honed in on what they COULD do and what COULD be possible. Their eyes fixed forward.
Resilience: NOUN – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
Cooperative Cotton Farmers
November is cotton harvest time in Southeast Virginia. Most of Virginia’s cotton is grown in and around Suffolk County. 2020 was particularly hard due to the weather. The season was shortened at the beginning due a late frost and then rain came – too much at times and too little at times. This can have a major effect of the number of cotton bolls set out by each plant. The farmers of the Commonwealth Gin work with industry experts, economists, scientists and each other to bring the best possible fiber to market each year. They have adapted to changes within their market, weather, land transition, regulations and so on by listening, learning and working together.
To accommodate production levels and to decrease spending on costly equipment, many farmers will have custom contractors come in and harvest for them. Many will also modify their own equipment to suit their needs and increase efficiency.
The Sweet Potato Donut
COVID-19 brought about many changes to the world of retail and local farm stands and produce shops are no exception. Bill Jardine, the owner at Quail Cove Organics, was looking for a way to bring folks in and to spread a little joy in his community during the pandemic. He began frying mini sweet potato donuts outside of his storefront. An employee sends dough rings down the fryer, then offers them up hot to customers, either rolled in confectionary or cinnamon sugar. The smell was like a warm, welcoming hug. Sometimes complex problems can be solved with simple measures. Bill takes great care in his work, developing and sourcing products that are enjoyed locally and supplying all of the sweet potatoes used for Route 66 Sweet Potato Chips. He spent nearly an hour with us. He talked about his business’s history and had conversations with us about farming philosophies and other issues surrounding the ag industry on the Eastern Shore and broadly.
The Family Salad Kit
Shore Breeze Farms is located in Eastville, Virginia on the Eastern Shore. In addition to various row crop and vegetable production, they run a hydroponic lettuce operation, U-Pick strawberries and a retail space. During the pandemic, Kyle and his dad Steve Sturgis had to get creative when customers were not allowed to come into the doors of the shop. They developed at home salad kits that could be ordered online or by phone and picked up at the door. This offered a fresh alternative when it seemed the grocery stores were wiped clean and all restaurants were only allowed to offer curbside pick-up. The farm is also conveniently located close to a local campground, so many families would pick up salad kits for dinners. Another example of providing a service that is good for business, but even better for the community they serve.
Teamwork: What do we each bring to the table?
During times of change and possible tribulation, it is critically important that we have the tools to understand the people we work with and ourselves. We have to work together to pull through difficult things and it’s important that we understand the uniqueness and strengths that each individual possesses. Dana Fisher led our group through a workshop to use our talents to benefit group causes.
For the future of agriculture, the work continues.
Virginia Tech has many research stations around the state. Each station provides services and research related to the commodities produced in that area. Research centers play an important role in their local communities and also conduct research that is critical in order for us to see successful seasons of production for years to come.