Number One and Number Three

Agriculture and forestry are Virginia’s first and third largest industries.” 

In our first meeting of the Richmond seminar, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matt Lohr shared this statistic with our VALOR class. While it was mentioned directly a few times during our days in and around the state capital (even by Governor Youngkin during his remarks to the Virginia Agribusiness Council dinner); it was reinforced in every visit and interaction we had during our time in Richmond. Here’s why I think agriculture and forestry will remain top industries in the commonwealth for years to come. 

Strong Leadership

From the jump, Virginia’s impressive leadership was on display with a meeting of several Secretariats and directors of executive level offices. Here, we were able to see not only the collaboration of several agencies and departments throughout the commonwealth working together to deliver real results for agriculture and rural communities; we were able to see the leadership of Secretary Lohr and deference that his counterparts have for not only him, but our state’s vital industries. We were also able to spend time with the dedicated leadership of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). Commissioner Guthrie and Deputy Commissioner Green not only opened the agency to our class as a home base, but spent time with us to help us better understand how VDACS works to serve both producers and consumers. Their leadership helps to ensure that resources get to where they need to go, and that our producers have the support they need and consumers have the protections that they deserve. 

Effective Advocates

I may be a little biased, but some of my favorite time during this seminar was the time that was spent with the Virginia Farm Bureau staff. Thanks to Dana, Norm, Nicole, and Stefanie the 11 of us in VALOR class VI are more effectively able to advocate for agriculture and forestry. And that’s what Farm Bureau does, advocates on behalf of farmers and ranchers to preserve agriculture, farming, and the Virginia way of life. The team at Virginia Farm Bureau helped us to process complex agriculture issues, think critically about those issues to positively represent agriculture to the media, better understand our strengths and apply those to our respective roles in the industry, and how to communicate effectively with legislators. Agriculture and forestry will remain top industries in Virginia not only because of the work of Farm Bureau, but because Farm Bureau empowers grassroots leaders to take action.

Dedicated and Connected Producers

Lastly, I know agriculture and forestry are going to remain top industries in the state because of the people who are involved in this industry. The dedication of producers, processors, and individuals in affiliated positions was on full display as we toured operations and rubbed elbows with Virginia agriculture and forestry supporters at the Virginia Agribusiness Council’s Legislative Appreciation dinner. I was able to see the passion of Tanya Cauthen at Belmont Butchery as crammed into her cozy shop and learned about her love of providing delicious and local meat to her customers. I saw the dedication of CJ Isbell and his family as we learned about their family’s diversified operation, toured their poultry processing area, and enjoyed homemade sausage. I saw the connections that programs like VALOR have made for people within the industry as my classmates and I were able to enjoy dinner with program alumni during the Agribusiness Council dinner. 

I’m confident because of our strong leaders, effective advocates, and dedicated and connected producers agriculture and forestry will remain top industries in the commonwealth for years to come. A huge thank you goes out to every individual that met with us during our time in Richmond, or opened their doors to us. I am also especially thankful for my classmates after this seminar. It was cool to see my colleague Paul getting to introduce us to folks that are in his personal network. It was great to see my friend Sara absolute CRUSH media training at Farm Bureau. It was in awe of Jennifer, Alicia, and the Adams for how they navigated the Agribusiness Council dinner with ease. What a cool few days, I can’t wait for our time in NoVA and D.C.!

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