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Virginia State University

There's Something Fishy Going on in Petersburg's Food Desert

Money’s tight in Petersburg, Va., and sometimes it’s difficult to put nutritious food on the table.  Like many other cities in America, Petersburg has found its way onto USDA’s list of food deserts – meaning that residents have limited access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.

Virginia State University has found a way to fill the void with a hands-on program that teaches students how to successfully sustain urban farming operations and helps put affordable nutritious food on the tables of community residents.

New #WomenInAg Infographics Show Impact of Women in Agriculture in Every State

From the classroom to the farm to the boardroom, women in agriculture are helping to pave the way for a better future. As leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of women are educated, encouraged and empowered to take on the challenges of meeting the world’s growing food, fuel and fiber needs. To celebrate and honor the contributions of women in agriculture, USDA is releasing a series of state-by-state infographics detailing the impact women have on agriculture in each state and across the country. Be sure to share these infographics on social media or print them to help tell the story of women in ag in your state!

Over the past few months, we’ve also been featuring the powerful stories of women in agriculture on the USDA blog. By following the #womeninag tag on the USDA blog, you can read first-person accounts from women like Carissa Koopmann Rivers, a fifth generation cow/calf rancher from Sunol, California, Casey Cox, the Executive Director of the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District, and Dr. Jewel Hairston, the Dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University.

Virginia Is for Lovers - and Silvopasture

Throughout his life, Chris Fields-Johnson has been keenly aware of the need to preserve the natural landscapes, which provide us with clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. As a graduate student of soil science at Virginia State and Polytechnic University, a forestry undergraduate, a student of Tom Brown, Jr.’s Tracker School and a former employee of the Virginia Department of Forestry, he also knows much of the science behind soil restoration and forestry. These experiences have given him a strong desire to turn his knowledge into action by managing land in the most beneficial way possible.

To make this dream a reality, he began converting a 250-acre loblolly pine plantation in Scottsville, Virginia., into a goat and sheep silvopasture system that resembles a pine savanna landscape. Silvopasture combines trees with forage and livestock production. The trees are managed for high-value sawlogs and, at the same time, provide shade and shelter for livestock and forage, reducing livestock stress and sometimes improving forage quality. Fields-Johnson and friends have spent many weekends thinning and pruning trees by hand, conducting controlled burns, fighting invasive plants and experimenting with forage establishment while they also learn how to raise goats and sheep.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Gayle Goschie

As part of our ongoing #womeninag series, we are highlighting a different leading woman in agriculture each month.  This month, we profile Gayle Goschie, a third-generation hop grower on a farm her family has owned in Silverton, Oregon, for 130 years. Goschie Farms grows 550 acres of hops and sells to some of the nation’s top breweries. The farm also grows 150 acres of wine grapes that are sold to regional wineries and 300+ acres of other crops including grass seed, corn and wheat.

Gayle was the first woman hop grower to be awarded the International Order of the Hop in 2009, the highest honor in the International hop community and an award which her father also received in 1984. We talked about her love for the outdoors, including the beautiful hikes she takes in the Willamette Valley. She strongly believes in our responsibility to conserve and improve our lands not only as good business sense but critical to building future farm leaders.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Casey Cox

As part of our ongoing #womeninag series, we are highlighting a different leading woman in agriculture each month.  This month, we profile Casey Cox, the Executive Director of the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District. In this role, she manages the Flint River Partnership, an agricultural water conservation initiative formed by the Flint River SWCD, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and The Nature Conservancy.

Casey is also learning her family's farm operation Longleaf Ridge, and will be the sixth generation of her family to farm along the Flint River. Upon receiving a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Conservation from the University of Florida, she returned to South Georgia to support agriculture and ongoing conservation efforts in her local community.

Urban Garden Tackles Hunger, Boosts Nutrition

One high tunnel can’t feed the world, but it can make a world of difference in providing fresh fruits and vegetables to those with limited access to healthy foods. These plastic covered structures use natural sunlight to create more favorable conditions for vegetables and specialty crops. And for the 31st Street Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., one high tunnel has given them a new identity as an urban farm and model for community agriculture.

The church’s senior pastor, Dr. Morris Henderson, began this new chapter in 2009 when he expanded their small garden to meet a growing need.  The local soup kitchen had closed and members of the congregation were bringing their own food to help the local poor and homeless. During this time, Vernon Heath, a small farm agent with Virginia State University, suggested the pastor contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to submit an application for a seasonal high tunnel.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Dr. Jewel Hairston

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are taking a moment to talk with prominent women in agriculture about their lives, their ideas about leadership, and how their day gets off to a good start.

Dr. Jewel Hairston is currently the Dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University. As Dean, she leads in developing the strategic vision and plan for the college and develops and fosters partnership with other universities, as well as local, state and federal agencies and organizations across the state of Virginia to offer competitive educational programs to students and diverse stakeholders.

Addressing the Needs of Working Families in Rural America

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post:

Last Wednesday, I participated in a regional forum of the White House Working Families Summit that was held at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia. Coming from a small town in Southwest Georgia myself, I can relate to the unique challenges that rural Americans face. Growing up, my father worked seven days a week on our peanut and cattle farm with help from my mother. To make sure our family had a constant source of income and health insurance, my mother also worked off the farm at the local independent bank. I am fortunate to be the product of hard working parents who provided my sister and me with the best opportunities possible.

All families have a right to have access to a good education system, affordable healthcare and jobs. Our rural families are concerned about creating strong prospects for their children, whether it is on or off the farm. But it is also essential that there are opportunities that will attract young people back to rural areas and help us secure the future of agriculture.

Virginia State University's (VSU) Small Farm Outreach Program Offers Education Sessions to Increase Opportunity for Rural Businesses

In support of Secretary Vilsack’s implementation of President Obama’s agenda to put Americans back to work and create an economy built to last, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) in collaboration with Virginia State University’s (VSU) Small Farm Outreach Program will host Rural Small Business Connections.  This training event will provide small businesses with a series of educational networking sessions and opportunities on how to build capacity and successfully do business with USDA and other Federal agencies.

Farm Producers Meet USDA Officials at Virginia State University

With the thoughts of spring planting on their minds, over 200 farm producers and local agricultural staff discussed the many ways USDA can strengthen the partnership between small farmers and the USDA agencies that serve them.

Eleven different USDA agencies converged earlier this month at the Douglas Wilder Building, on the campus of Virginia State University (VSU) to talk business and program assistance. From topics such as how to market locally grown foods in your community to grant writing were cover during the conference. A local grower’s panel was the highlight again this year; where four USDA recipients shared time with the group during the general session, to “in their own words” explain how they utilized different USDA programs to improve their community or individual operations profit margins.