VALOR V’s tour of operations in Southwest Virginia provoked the group to ponder the question in the auspices of Mount Rogers-how do you maintain your roots and grow when faced with rugged terrain? Figuratively speaking, local labor availability and markets provide challenges for day-to-day operations. Realistically speaking, the terrain poses limitations for agriculturists to efficiently produce the same commodity as other areas of the state.
Our group visited Duchess Dairy in Rural Retreat, VDACS veterinary services in Wytheville, Virginia Produce Company of Carroll County, Bottomley Evergreens in Elk Garden, Landcrafted Food of Independence and River Ridge Land and Cattle also of Independence.
What stood out to me was the focus on the local community. Each of these businesses focused on their employees, maintaining work environments where generations of employees have worked. The companies recognized the challenges with hiring outside labor and instead built operations to maintain year round employment when possible. In the case of Virginia Produce Company, year round employment meant sourcing crops from across North America to maintain their workforce.
Landcrafted Food and River Ridge Land & Cattle recognized the local rugged terrain was a challenge to produce large quantities of grass-fed beef. Their network of farmers and ranchers across the state could produce these quantities. The value-added marketing of the beef sticks increased the profit-margins for their grass-feed beef. Making beef sticks from partners’ cattle for world-wide distribution enabled the organizations to preserve green space while growing the local work force.
Bottomley Trees was the one operation where the hilly terrain provided fantastic benefits. Steep ground above 3,000 feet in elevation was a requirement for the Fraser Fir production. The national markets crave these high elevation trees. As the market for Christmas Trees and greenery improves, the company stands ready to meet this demand using a core group of employees from across their multi-state operation.
In case you’re wondering, en route to our last visit with retired ag teacher Rob Moss in Tazewell County, the group discovered you can see the rear of a van from the driver’s seat. The one way in and out to Burke’s Garden gives Lombard St stiff competition for the windiest road in America. My vote goes to Burke’s Garden when you consider the outstanding views from these switchbacks.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough-these companies recognized the hurdles facing them and took steps to make sure their operations could traverse the business peaks and valleys.
(My apologies to my high school English teachers regarding the post title. The song name using proper English grammar ain’t the same.)