The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.

A teacher told me that sentence right before I started my first semester of college. I still hear her in the back of my head because it continues to ring true throughout my life.

First, I was introduced to peanuts. They come from a can, right? Well, actually, there are several varieties and one of them a Virginia peanut! From Dell Cotton at Virginia Peanut Growers to Belmont Peanuts to Birdsong, our education on peanuts continued throughout the day. Several facts that I find interesting are that it takes less water to grow peanuts than most other nuts and roughly 28,000 acres of peanuts are planted in Virginia every year. I also found it interesting that how they dry their peanuts. They do it on the trailer itself!

On Friday, our day began at Smithfield Foods. Our hosts gave us a great tour and provided a great lunch. I was impressed with the Research & Development projects and was secretly happy that we did not see any pigs getting slaughtered. Our hosts were very open about their challenges and how they manage them, and I was surprised to learn that they deal with not one, but two unions. Having worked at a union manufacturing facility, I was curious to learn more and wondered how they manage two union contracts simultaneously.

Friday continued to be a fascinating day with two more intriguing stops. The first, a stop at Commonwealth Cotton Gin. Katie, a former VALOR participant, had told me that this was one of her favorite stops and she was correct. I was curious about how they process the commodity. I wasn’t aware that ten percent of the processing is waste and is used to feed to local livestock. Nor was I aware that, unlike corn, the producer cannot be paid until the USDA grades the cotton and returns the data back to the Gin. Our grain license dictates how quickly we have to pay the producers for the commodity. The second stop was at Mr. Paul Rogers’ farm. Here I had the opportunity to learn more about farming equipment and had the opportunity to operate, under the careful hand of Mr. Rogers, his very expensive self-driving tractor.

On Saturday we traveled to Perdue Agribusiness. At work, we had sold Perdue some commodities, but I had no concept of the volume of commodities that they processes. Mr. Keating, being well-versed in Perdue business and also possessing a healthy sense of humor provided an entertaining tour of Perdue facilities. We are lucky that he voluntarily postponed his walk with his dog on the beach. He explained that a large portion of commodities in the past year were shipped to China and Venezuela. I would have guessed China was a frequent destination, but I had no idea Venezuela was one. While I left feeling I missed my opportunity to ask good questions, I did “like” Perdue Agribusiness on Facebook and have been learning from them ever since. Better late than never, I suppose.

We finished our day with stops at Quail Cove Organics and Seafield Farm. What struck me about Mr. Bill Jardine was his grit. This was a man who overcame several great hurdles in his business and personal life, yet he is the epitome of graciousness and generosity. Between, donuts, sweet potatoes, and apples, if you left there hungry, it wasn’t his fault. Our last stop was meeting Jenna Hunt, another great example of grit and fearlessness. She confessed that they had very limited knowledge of farming when they relocated from the mid-west, but she dug in and learned. She told of her successes and her failures and how she learned from them. She is not only making a great business, but also teaching her children so much that isn’t found in a textbook.

Lastly, I had a couple of opportunities to talk to Sara Williams and learn how she juggles her work responsibilities with family responsibilities. I am always amazed at the everyday sacrifices women make in order to keep everything afloat.

I think I will classify this experience as a success for several reasons. I was able to keep up with Megan’s schedule in spite of my age; although, and I was able to learn quite a bit about agriculture. I wonder what the Richmond trip will hold in store for us? Will it be just as successful? What will leave me awestruck? Time will tell….

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