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Each class attends 12 seminars: 10 regional explorations around the Virginia Commonwealth, 1 national seminar, and 1 international tour

The order for each class shifts due to a variety of reasons, but the following themes, commodity connections, and leadership activities remain the same. Actual seminar content varies from class to class, in particular the order of professional development topics. Therefore this is only a sampling of typical seminar content.

Blacksburg – Orientation & Understanding Self

During this seminar, fellows are introduced to the VALOR program, including their new class of peers. As with all good orientation, multiple program related items are discussed such as:

  • VALOR Guidebooks
  • Seminar 1Blog and Social Media Expectations
  • Headshots/Bios
  • Skills Preassessment

Fellows are then immersed into leadership learning with a variety of activities surrounding self. In past cohorts, this has included items such as:

  • Self Ice-Breakers – Why are you here?
  • Telling Your Story
  • Etiquette Training
  • Giving and Receiving Peer Feedback

As with all future seminars, formal leadership lessons are incorporated into this seminar that focus the stage on where fellows will learn as they grow throughout this program. These have previously included:

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®)
    • Personality inventory that allows for understanding of preferred perceptions and judgments
  • Diffusion of Innovations
    • A theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread

Eastern Shore/Tidewater – Ag Trade & Communicating with Others

This seminar, typically the first “traditional” tour within Virginia, showcases each cohort’s first interactions with agricultural commodities. These have previously included:Smithfield

  • Cotton
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Clams
  • Freshwater Bass
  • Organic sweet potatoes and produce

During this seminar, special attention is paid to agricultural trade and how the agricultural community communicates with others both inside and outside of the field. This is highlighted with visits to:

  • Virginia Port Authority – export/import trade facilities
  • Smithfield Foods – pork production and communications
  • Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Centers – Land-grant research communications with ag industry
  • Paul Rogers, Jr – innovation in agriculture technology including a self-driving tractor

Leadership components of this seminar have varied depending on the backgrounds and interests of the new cohort. Popular leadership items included have been:

  • Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory
    • Inventory measure for problem-solving, teamwork and creativity
  • Leaders Eat Last – TED Talk and book by Simon Senik
  • Servant Leadership and Invisible Leadership

The following video highlights some of the images from Class II’s visit to the Eastern Shore/Tidewater region


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Richmond – Legislative Advocacy & Policy Development

For many fellows, this is their first dive into the policy and advocacy side of the agricultural community. As such, this seminar focuses on a wide variety of content including:

  • Government Relations
    • The Truth about Lobbying
    • Virginia Agribusiness Council Banquet
    • Visits with the Governor, First Lady, and Secretary of Ag
    • Visits with state and local representatives
    • Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources committee meetings
    • USDA Rural Development – commodity issues, marketing, and production
  • Media Training – Video interview skills with Virginia Farm Bureau

The fellows often are introduced to the program-long leadership project during this seminar, which includes interactions with:


  • Learning Leadership: The Five Fundamentals of Becoming an Exemplary Leader
  • The Leadership Challenge Workbook
  • Nancy Duarte’s TEDTalk : The Secret Structure of Great talks (image to the right)

With a jam-packed seminar, fellows often begin their work with Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. This leadership skills typically covers multiple seminars as it sets the baseline for how to navigate conversations with emotions and opinions exist in multitude.


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Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. – Urban Agriculture & National Ag Policy

When you think of Northern Virginia, agriculture and farmland are most likely not the first thing to come to mind. During this seminar, the fellows learn of agriculture’s presence in NoVa and even in the heart of Washington, D.C. as they traveled by car, metro, and foot to dig deeper into agriculture in and surrounding the nation’s capital.

Stops during this seminar have often included:

VALOR fellows

  • Middleburg Agricultural Research Extension Center (MARE)
  • Endless Summer Harvest with “The Lettuce Lady”, Mary Ellen Taylor
  • Agricultural Chains including urban grocers
  • Rooftop Production
  • Food justice and insecurity
  • Food Hubs

Continuing with the importance of Government Relationships, fellows also visit with Special Interest Groups (SIGs) that interact with policy and advocacy in order to understand their relationships and communications with constituents. Since it is important for all agricultural leaders to be able to interact within and outside of their comfort zone, many SIGs are selected that might run opposed to the opinions of some fellows – therefore encouraging respectful, crucial conversations to begin. Examples of past SIGs include:

  • National Milk Producers Federation
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
  • Association of Public and Land Grant Universities
  • National Association of Counties
  • American Feed Industry Association
  • American Horse Council
  • National Council of Agricultural Employers
  • United Fresh Produce Association

Class IV RooftopAs a launching point from their interactions with the SIGs, fellows begin to interact with additional leadership understandings including:

  • Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for changing your organization and the world
  • Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In

This seminar begins to piece together the leadership necessities for all involved in agriculture – whether directly or indirectly connected to legislation and policy.

Southwest Virginia – Rural Resiliency & Collaboration

Class 1 SouthwestJust as with the seminars showcasing urban agriculture and policy, Southwest Virginia offers a unique perspective to rural agricultural that many fellows have never witnessed. In counties deemed “Where Virginia Begins”, VALOR often highlights the following agricultural connections:

  • Rural Area Medical (RAM)EconDevCoalBeauty.jpg
  • UVA Wise – Health Clinic and area healthcare
  • Food Hubs in Rural VA
  • Christmas Tree Farming (first picture)
  • Beef production
  • Local coal mining history and remnant (pictured to the right)

In addition to agricultural connections through rural resilience, fellows continue to learn about themselves as well as their interactions with the world including:

  • Strengths
    • Providing understanding of what a person does best through natural talents and learned skills surrounding how one feels, thinks, and behaves
  • Crucial Conversations (both theory and practice)
  • Community Capital
  • Community Viability

Bay/Northern Neck – Agriculture, Technology and the Environment

The Northern Neck of Virginia, the peninsula where the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers meet the Chesapeake Bay, is located in the northeast portion of the state and flanked by Virginia, Maryland, and the Chesapeake Bay. At this seminar, fellows are immersed into a variety of agricultural contexts including:

  • Historic Stratford Hall, birthplace of Robert E. LeeC Bay Seminar
  • Oysters
  • Omega Protein
  • Grain/Soybeans
  • Produce

This seminar has also strongly reinforced the mission and vision of the VALOR journey, with a multiple day tour of Tangier Island, an isolated patch of Virginia marshland in the Chesapeake Bay. Volunteers from the Chesapeake Bay Watershed join the fellows to showcase experiential learning surrounding the importance of the bay and water resources throughout this region (picture to the right).

Other seminar activities and discussions have included:

U.S. Regional – Production & Practice: A Comparison of Approaches

Each cohort collectively selects a region within the United States to tour for this national seminar. This experience allows the fellows to compare and contrast a variety of agricultural commodities, practices, and approaches based on local, regional, and national need.

  • Class I – Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan
  • Class II – Florida
  • Class III – Washington State
  • Class IV – South Carolina and Georgia

In class I, fellows ______

Class 1 National

For class II, stops included a variety of research, education, and production initiatives such as:

Class III enjoyed the wide variety of agriculture found between the western and eastern portions of Washington State, with highlights including:

  • _____

At this time, Class IV is approximately a week from their departure with stops including:

During these visits, fellows also try to visit with other state agricultural leadership programs to learn more about the global networks of fellows that is being grown within this field of work. These interactions have spurred connections that continue to grow cross-state partnerships and understanding, as agriculture is not often contained within state boundaries.

Southside – Addressing Agricultural Issues

Southside Virginia is defined by its landscape and history. The belly of the state, a nugget of 13 counties lying along the North Carolina line. East of the Blue Ridge, west of the Coastal Plain, and south of the James – thus, Southside – it’s neither mountain nor sea. Even its climate is said to be unique.  Settled by the second sons of landed gentry – out to make their names and fortunes in tobacco, textiles, and natural resources. Through economic prosperity and decline, the land and its culture has written it’s own story. Today struggling industries are reinventing themselves, counties are coming together to help each other do it. Agricultural innovation is addressing labor shortage and waste problems.  VALOR is there this weekend to see how it’s done.

Central – Agricultural Viability

While sharing a meal, I never miss an opportunity to remind all who are gathered that every bite they enjoy, with only a very few exceptions, started out on a farm somewhere. If it weren’t for farmers and agriculture, we would all be hungry, thirsty, and naked.

HCentralCiderJWilkersonow lucky are we that Virginia agriculture does it all. It’s clear that thecounties of Central Virginia are doing their share to fill our needs and wants for food and drink with business acumen and leadership.

But it isn’t just luck, of course. Central Virginia is capitalizing on our cravings for good food and drink in new and innovative ways. Wine, beer, cider, grass-fed beef, and ice cream, all produced from Virginia grown grapes, hops, apples, cattle, and milk are just a few of the products we sampled.Read more

Shenandoah Valley – Dynamic Communication and Legacy Leadership

Class 1 Valley

On January 9-12, 2015 the VALOR Fellows traveled to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to see how communication is impacting the agriculture industry. Day one began at WVPT in Harrisonburg where VALOR fellows learned about TV interview basics and then were given a chance to put those skills to into practice.

From WVPT, the group traveled to Farm Credit where they were joined by different Virginia Agriculture leaders. The fellows had a chance to interact one on one with these leaders by interviewing them and then presenting the information they learned to the group.

Day two began at H&K Hilltop Farm in Linville, Virginia where the fellows learned more about the sheep industry. They then traveled to Shreckhise Nurseries located in Grottoes. After lunch at Larry and Holshouser.jpgthe Weyers Cave Fire Department the group visited Cave View Dairy where owner Gerald Garber explained his business. The day ended with a TEDtalk and an Environmental issues Panel that consisted of Gary Flory from the Department of Environmental Quality, Pat Michaels with CATO Institute, and Dennis Avery with Hudson Institute.

Sunday morning began at Houff Feed & Fertilizer where several VALOR Class I fellows came back to discuss issues in our industry. Andrew Smith, Matt Hickey, Ian Heatwole, Ken Ryan, and Dana Fisher were all present to participate on the panel. Following the panel discussion Kern Houff, Neil Houff, and Tim Grove gave VALOR fellows the background of Houff Feed & Fertilizer. From there the group traveled to Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative in Hinton. The last tour of the day was with Rivermont Farms in Timberville.

The final day was spent at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds learning about the history of the poultry industry and the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition.


Seminar IX: International – Global Dynamics

Agriculture today is both local and global. This past winter, all across Virginia, twelve VALOR fellows – beef farmers, a row-cropper, entrepreneurs, bankers, local food advocates, and a dairy herdsperson – kissed their families goodbye, closed the gates, and checked barns and email one last time. Headlights swung into the quiet Piedmont lanes, ran along flat Coastal Plain roads, heading to Dulles, and on to Vietnam.


Chosen for its dynamic economy and booming export-driven industries, Vietnam framed and helped fellows exercise many agriculture leadership roles for VALOR’s second class. From civic engagement in orphanages to the cultural intelligence of removing shoes and enjoying dishes prepared by welcoming hosts, the fellows had the opportunity to show their respect for low- and high-tech approaches in an economy-balancing and agricultural tradition in a global world.



Roanoke – Graduation: Leading the Future by Example

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