I have definitely, and on purpose, procrastinated long enough to write this blog post! For some reason, I have found myself in the middle of two programs that are what I’d like to call, “out of my box”. Agriculture is right up my alley however, dressing in business attire and visiting with dignitaries in addition to writing blogs is NOT ME! And if I had to choose between the two, writing blogs is going to be my biggest hurdle during the next 2 years of VALOR! Much like the new fitness plan I signed myself (and Darin) up for. I can get the workouts in and get up early….but fasting for 16 hours is just NOT FUN! I’m certainly struggling with the eating times and lack of carbs!
Much of what we do requires mental strength (as opposed to physical strength) to keep moving forward and pushing ourselves. To tell you I learned a lot during our experience in the Tidewater/Eastern Shore region of VA would be an understatement. My lack of knowledge about the peanut and cotton industry is extreme…..and boy did I broaden my horizon after this trip. Each of the producers and business professionals we met were extremely knowledgeable and experienced in their field. Ray Keating, Perdue Agribusiness International Merchandiser was an expert in exporting soybeans, corn and other crops. The amount of organization it took to not only fill cargo crates, but to maximize space on the cargo ships was astonishing. He was truly a unique person to talk with and learn from.
Dell Cotton with the VA Peanut Growers Association has been in the peanut industry all his life. If you had a question about peanuts, he had an answer! His experience and knowledge is essential in connecting every aspect of the peanut industry from production, to buying and selling. Mark Simmons at Birdsong Peanuts, the Southampton buying facility, was a wealth of information on the buying, shelling, cleaning and transport of peanuts and Robert Marks with Belmont Peanuts, not only grows peanuts but also has a retail location selling packaged peanuts and deli sandwiches.
Did you know that there is a “Virginia type peanut”? And that all the peanuts sold in ballparks across the United States are these types of peanuts? And how fascinating to know they are all grown in the Eastern Shore region of VA! Additionally, the peanut pod is NOT the root of the plant….but grows off of what’s called a peg after the peg submerges back underground from the stem of the leaflet.
The cotton industry has certainly been through some hardships, and I learned a great deal of how teamwork truly played a big role in keeping this industry going. The Alphin Family with The Commonwealth Cotton Gin serves as a drop point for producers to bring their cotton and have it baled properly in order to sell. The cotton seeds are also sold for animal feed products leaving little waste and bringing more dollars to the producers and the industry. The Alphin Family along with local producers work closely with John Parker, Cotton Agronomist to ensure they are growing and marketing their product as efficiently as possible.
I haven’t mentioned Smithfield Foods yet and for me, that was the most fascinating and interesting visit. I like science, especially if it involves animals and agriculture! Every part of the pig is utilized for industry use and the most interesting to me was the Heprin Sodium from the intestines, which is an anti-coagulant used in needles, catheters and other medicinal purposes. One extremely interesting project Smithfield is working on is turning manure into energy to power homes! That is recycling at its best!
Before I close out my thoughts, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize how humbled I was at the perseverance of the producers we met. The Rogers’ Family Farm has stood the test of time, from one generation to the next willing to do what’s needed to have the best peanut and cotton crop they can yield. Not to mention the best homecooked dinner I had in a long time thanks to Mrs. Rogers! Bill Jardine at Quail Cove Organics was our sweet potato guy. He discussed how he went from growing acres of sweet potatoes which were sold to a large potato chip company to having his local produce stand where his current product of choice is sweet potato donuts (yes, they are absolutely awesome, and I don’t even like sweet potatoes!). And last, but certainly not least, Jenna and Casey Hunt at Seafield Farm. This is a first-generation farm family that learned everything from scratch by trial and error and taking as many educational classes as they could. They have a booming produce business where they sell customized produce boxes to their customers along with selling at the local farmer’s market. They do all of this on just ONE acre of land…..and still have enough to feed their family of 4!
Our trip to the Eastern Shore was truly amazing and eye opening! I signed up for the VALOR program to learn more about Agriculture and I have certainly hit that goal. I can say I am one step closer to being more confident in advocating for VA Agriculture and educating others on how important all areas of agriculture is to our state.