Twelve White House fellows were given the opportunity to experience agriculture first hand. From a custom slaughterhouse to a large-scale fruit and vegetable operation, the group grazed the hills and pastures of Virginia to learn the importance of ag in the U.S.
Hosted by Virginia Farm Service Agency staff and accompanied by Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service Deputy Under Secretary Karis Gutter, the fellows began their tour at the USDA Fredericksburg Service Center where they met their tour guides — County Executive Director Jeanne Turnure and FSA Manager Kim DePasquale.
“You could just feel their excitement and real interest in what USDA does and what the farmer goes through to put food on their table,” said DePasquale.
The first stop landed the group at the Silver Ridge Farm, a custom slaughter operation. Silver Ridge Farm is a family business with the fifth generation to be born soon. They grow grain through no-till practices, raise feeder calves and operate a custom slaughter house where they slaughter cows, pigs and deer. The fellows toured the facility, which was not in operation that day, and learned how animals are humanely handled. They also viewed the cooler area where large sections of beef are hung and toured the freezer area where cuts of meat are wrapped, stored and prepared for consumers. The Silvers participate in several USDA conservation programs as well as the Commodity Loan Programs
The next stop was C&T Produce LLC. Owned and operated by husband and wife team Craig and Tracy Debernard, C&T Produce owns 30 acres of land in Stafford, Va., and leases more than 400 acres in King George, Va. Craig shared with the group information on irrigation, identification of fruit ripeness, plant disease, pollination, impacts of dry and hot weather, and finished the visit with a watermelon tasting of various types.
About 99 percent of C&T Produce’s business is direct marketing and includes community sponsored agriculture and several farmers markets. The Debernard’s have received direct farm ownership, operating and emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency and participate in the Noninsured Crop Assistance Program.
For FSA staff, the opportunity solidified why they continue to do the work they do.
“When you are with a group of people discussing your job, you are reminded of how important your job really is to the local agricultural communities,” said Turnure.
For the White House fellows, this was an opportunity to see the challenges and successes of two diversified operations and gain a firsthand understanding of agriculture.
"I gained a newfound respect for the challenges farmers face in helping to bring food to our table,” said Kisha Davis, a White House fellow. “It incorporates business, conservation, climate prediction, and just getting downright dirty with providing food, the most basic of all essentials. It is an honorable, yet often overlooked, profession."
The White House Fellows program provides gifted and highly motivated young Americans with first-hand experience in the process of governing the nation and a sense of personal involvement in the leadership of society. Selected individuals spend a year working as full-time, paid fellows to senior White House staff, cabinet secretaries and other top-ranking government officials.