Sometimes the Best Things Are the Things We Didn’t Plan

When I think back on my life’s experiences I often find the best ones were those I didn’t plan. For example, when I think back to all the different occupations I thought I wanted to do when I grew up (firefighter, astronaut, doctor, veterinarian, and meteorology) auditor was not on my list. However, this occupation has allowed me to take my constant need to learn new things, my analytical and organizational skills and my desire to make things better and apply them to the finance, healthcare and agricultural fields. Being an auditor has been a wonderful career for me. Who knew? Certainly not me! I am also certain that being a VALOR class VI fellow is going to be the same. In fact, VALOR wasn’t on my radar. I had other learning and development ideas. But, the past two seminars have proven that even though I didn’t plan on this experience, I am glad that I applied. During our second seminar the idea of “we didn’t plan on this, but it’s worked out” seemed to resonate in all the placed we visited.

Growing up near the Shenandoah Valley I knew very little about the Tidewater region of Virginia, specifically the diversity in agriculture. So, I was excited to learn and explore this area. Our first day took us to the VA Peanut Growers Association where we had an opportunity to learn about the history of peanuts in VA and the peanut industry from Dell Cotton. One of the things that resonated with me during our meeting with Dell is that the large amount of peanuts grown in VA comes from a small number of farmers on relatively few acres in VA. And, that most of the peanuts consumed in ball parks or in holiday tins come from this region! Dell Cotton is certainly an expert in the peanut industry and while providing us an overview and history he mentioned several times about the unexpected changes in the industry and the resilience of the peanut growers from this small geographical area has played in that market. Our class then had an opportunity to eat lunch at and then tour Belmont Peanuts. The deli lunch menu was amazing and the market area had a wide variety of peanut related gift options to select from. During the tour we heard about the impact COVID had on their business and that by thinking outside the box how they were able to sustain. We then visited Birdsong Peanuts where we followed the drying process peanuts go through once harvested to being stored. I couldn’t believe the amount of peanuts I saw in storage.

Our second day took us to Smithfield Foods where we toured the packaging facility. This facility packages it all from hams to bacon and it was quite interesting to see how many of the items we purchase at retail stores are packaged. Once the tour was complete we visited their Innovation Center for lunch and also learned about vertical integration. One of the most interesting facts I learned was one of the byproducts, Sodium Heparin that is used in the medical industry, comes from pig intestines. Who knew? Later that day we visited Commonwealth Cotton Gin. Driving in you immediately saw cotton bales the size of cargo ship containers. I have really only seen hay bales so seeing one of these large rectangular cotton bales was not what I had in mind.  Here we learned that a family went out on a limb and built a Cotton Gin. And it worked! Today the Commonwealth Gin still takes bales of cotton and turns them into usable commodities. Our day ended on Rogers’ Family Farm. It has to be one of the most picturesque farms in the area. Here we learned how cotton and peanuts are planted, grown and harvested. We learned about the machinery used and some of our class even got to operate a piece of machinery. Thanks to Mrs. Rogers we were able to extend our time with them and other VA Agricultural leaders including VDACS Commissioner, Mr. joe Guthrie, over an excellent meal!

Our last day included a tour of Perdue Agribusiness. Here International Merchandiser, Kay Keating, discussed with us how soybeans and other crops are collected and shipped around the world. We were even able to witness a large ship being filled for shipment. We then crossed the Chesapeake Bay to the Eastern Shore where we visited with Bill Jardine at Quail Cove Organics. He explained how he went from growing and selling sweet potatoes that were used to make sweet potato chips to growing and selling not only sweet potatoes at his produce stand. But, also some of the best tasting donuts I’ve tasted. And, these donuts are made from sweet potatoes! Our last visit took us to the one stop that surprised me most, Seaford Farms. Here we met Casey and Jenna Hunt and their two adorable children. This family certainly is living the saying “sometimes the best things are the things we didn’t plan.” From living in the corporate world in a big city to raising produce along the Atlantic Ocean this couple demonstrate that you can start something new and still be successful! They have one of the best gardens around where they raise enough produce for their regular customers and farmer’s markets in just a one acre garden.

My visit to the Tidewater Region of Virginia certainly did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded my expectations each day! Can’t wait until our next seminar in Richmond.

1 thought on “Sometimes the Best Things Are the Things We Didn’t Plan”

  1. Well said – sometimes the best things are the unplanned things. And, although risk can be scary, the lessons learned (even when it didn’t to as planned) are invaluable to apply moving forward.

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