Find this report on the web at: www.virginiafarmtotable.org
For more information about the Virginia Farm to Table Plan, please contact:
Eric S. Bendfeldt
Recommended Citation: Virginia Farm to Table Team. 2011. Virginia Farm to Table: Healthy Farms and Healthy Food for the Common Wealth and Common Good. A Plan for Strengthening Virginia’s Food System and Economic Future. E.S. Bendfeldt, C. Tyler-Mackey, M. Benson, L. Hightower, K. Niewolny (Eds.) December 2011.
The Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ (CALS) Virginia Farm to Table Team:
Eric Bendfeldt, Extension Specialist, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Crystal Tyler-Mackey, Extension Specialist, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Matt Benson, PhD Student, Virginia Tech (VT) Department of Agricultural and Extension Education
Susan Clark, Associate Professor, VT Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise
Joe Eifert, Associate Professor, VT Department of Food Science and Technology
Jonah Fogel, Extension Specialist, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Gordon Groover, Associate Professor, VT Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics
Lisa Hightower, PhD Student, VT Department of Agricultural and Extension Education
Steven Hodges, Professor, VT Department Crop and Soil Environmental Science
Francie Kennedy, Farm to Table Project Coordinator, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Kenner Love, Extension Agent, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Theresa Nartea, Extension Specialist, Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia State University
Kim Niewolny, Assistant Professor, VT Department of Agricultural and Extension Education
Jactone A. Ogejo, Associate Professor, VT Department of Biological Systems Engineering
Elena Serrano, Associate Professor, VT Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise
Amber Vallotton, Extension Agent, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Pete Ziegler, Research Assistant Professor, VT Department of Food Science and Technology
Additionally, the VT CALS Virginia Farm to Table Project Team and the Virginia Food System Council would like to specifically thank Matt Benson and Lisa Hightower for their important contributions to the Virginia Farm to Table Plan in collecting, analyzing, and summarizing the data gathered from the online survey and other data sources. Special thanks to Francie Kennedy, J. Freeman Bendfeldt, and Karley Kranich for their support and assistance in the field with additional data gathering and food system research.
This report and plan would not have been possible without the facilitation of the University of Virginia’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation and the collaboration of the Virginia Food System Council and its participating organizations.
Special thanks to Jeffrey Plank of the University of Virginia’s Office of the Vice President for Research for assistance with developing strategies to present and implement the Virginia Farm to Table Plan, and to Tanya Denckla Cobb and Christine Gyovai of the Institute for Environmental Negotiation for assistance with meeting design and facilitation.
The project team acknowledges the following individuals and organizations for their role in providing guidance, meeting space, facilitating discussion and data collection for the Virginia Farm to Table Plan and Initiative.
Melvin Atkinson, Virginia Beach Department of Agriculture
Judy Berger, Jefferson Area Board for the Aging
Dara Booher, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Jan Briede, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
Christopher Carpenter, Lex/Rock Grows
Kate Collier, Local Food Hub
Kim Cowgill, Virginia Tech
Donna Daniel, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Kai Degner, Fairfield Center: Advancing Dialogue and Understanding
Andrea Early, Harrisonburg City Public Schools
John Eckman, Valley Conservation Council
Kimberly Edmonds, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Pablo Elliot, Airlie Center Local Food Project
Rick Felker, Mattawoman Creek Farms
Anthony Flaccavento, Rural SCALE
Christy Gabbard, Catawba Sustainability Center/VT Earthworks
Charles Green, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Cassie Hughes, George Mason University
John Ignosh, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Molly Harris, Lulus Local Food
Heidi Hertz, Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth
Daniel Kauffman, Virginia Seafood Agriculture and Research Extension Center
Don Loock, Piedmont Environmental Council
Donna McBride, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Ken Meter, Crossroads Resource Center
Spencer Neale, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation
Libbey Oliver, Williamsburg Farmers Market
Jess Rich, Virginia Tech
Glen Sink, Center for Rural Virginia
Tom Stanley, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Scott Tate, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Kathlyn Terry, Appalachian Sustainable Development
Leslie Van Horn, Federation of Virginia Food Banks
Michael Waldmann, Society of St. Andrew
Gordon Walker, Jefferson Area Board for the Aging
Kim Woodwell, Shenandoah Forum
Andrea Young, George Mason University
Funding and support for the development of the Virginia Farm to Table Plan was generously provided by Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Internal Integrated Competitive Grants Program, Virginia State University, Virginia Foundation for Agricultural Innovation and Rural Sustainability (VA FAIRS), Virginia Food System Council, University of Virginia Institute for Environmental Negotiation, Blue Moon Fund, Shenandoah Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council, Shenandoah Valley Buy Fresh Buy Local, Augusta County Farm Bureau, and USDA Risk Management Agency.
Special thanks to Theresa Nartea of Virginia State University and Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Communications Department for their assistance in graphic design, editing, and formatting the Virginia Farm to Table Plan.
A Call to Action: Implementing the Recommendations of the Virginia Farm to Table Plan
The Virginia Farm to Table Plan is an initiative that builds on the rich agricultural history and entrepreneurship of Virginia. Virginia’s overall food system directly impacts the survival and viability of farms and farmland; the economic development of rural and urban communities; the care, restoration and resilience of ecological resources such as local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay; and critical health issues. Therefore, the promotion of healthy farms and healthy food from farm to consumer table can have a positive impact on the common wealth and common good of Virginia.
Virginia’s agricultural industry is very diverse with different levels of local, regional, national and international trade of Virginia commodities and food products. The Virginia Farm to Table Plan is focused on Virginia’s emerging local and regional food commerce and the enhancement of the health and resilience of communities and localities across the Commonwealth.
The unprecedented demand for local and regionally identified foods continues to grow in Virginia and across the United States. For purpose of this report and Plan, local is defined as grown and produced in Virginia. The demand for locally-grown food has also created a myriad of economic and social opportunities for agricultural producers, entrepreneurs and communities. Because the food system is so fundamental and closely interconnected, its significance for economic vitality and community viability of a particular place cannot be overstated.
Families and households in Virginia spend over $19 billion annually on food purchases. The purchasing power these food dollars represent can be a powerful economic driver within Virginia’s local farm and food economy. Encouraging the continued development of Virginia’s food and farm economy can also impact individual and community health outcomes and improve Virginians access to fresh, whole nutritious foods.
Virginia was recently recognized as an emerging leader in the Nation’s local food movement. The development of Virginia’s local food movement has experienced growth through many different initiatives and businesses. Farmers markets are the most visible component of the local food movement, and Virginia has experienced significant growth in farmers markets over the past ten years. At the same time, new business enterprises and community initiatives have been incubated and expanded across the Commonwealth. These businesses and initiatives include food hubs, cooperatives, produce auctions, online farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), urban and community gardens, food policy councils and working groups, Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters, crop mobs and gleaning clubs, farm-to-school, university, hospital and institutional procurement programs.
However, challenges remain and a more concerted statewide effort is needed to develop supply, markets, infrastructure, programs and policies to optimize the economic framework and access of this movement.
The overall objective of the Plan is to educate and communicate to the public, the food system stakeholders, and to key decision-makers a sustainable food system’s impact on economic development, health, natural resources and social well-being; and how Virginia’s food system can be strengthened to address key issues facing farmers, food entrepreneurs, and communities.
In collaborating to implement this Plan, we will grow jobs and new entrepreneurs, encourage durable economic development around farming and food, maintain farmland and working landscapes, improve public health, increase food security, and strengthen community viability for a stronger local food system and brighter economic future.
Eric Bendfeldt and Crystal Tyler-Mackey
The Virginia Farm to Table Plan is an initiative that builds on the rich agricultural history and entrepreneurship of Virginia. As long ago as The 1607 Jamestown Settlement, agriculture and innovative farming played a critical role in the establishment and survival of communities. The early settlers of Jamestown learned much from Native Americans about innovative food production and survival in their new environment; crop rotations, planting in rows, fertilizing and composting that allowed the settlers to survive the harsh winters of their new surroundings.
This entrepreneurial and innovative spirit continued and was strengthened by the work of prominent Virginians like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Edmund Ruffin, Cyrus McCormick and others throughout Virginia history. The same entrepreneurial spirit is evident today with Virginia emerging as one of the nation’s leaders in the local food movement (Denckla Cobb, 2011).
The Virginia Farm to Table Plan builds on this tradition and strengthens the state’s food system and economic future from the farm to the table. A food system is defined as the production, processing, distribution, sales, purchasing, preparation, consumption, and waste disposal pathways of food. Within each of these sectors and pathways, there are opportunities for job creation, business incubation and expansion, health promotion, improved access to healthy, nutritious food, enhanced environmental stewardship and economic success.
A key tenet for the Virginia Farm to Table Plan is that quality food should be affordable and accessible to everyone in Virginia regardless of economic means. However, the social, environmental and economic importance of farming and food is often overlooked and under-appreciated by individuals and communities. Agriculture plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy environment especially water resources locally and in the Chesapeake Bay. The social, economic, and environmental impact of Virginia’s food system is profound; therefore, ongoing education is needed to educate individuals, communities, and decision makers about these impacts. Strong healthy communities and local economies will ensure a strong healthy state economy.
Because the food system is so fundamental and closely interconnected, its significance for economic vitality and community viability of a particular place cannot be overstated. Virginia’s overall food system directly impacts the survival and viability of farms and farmland, the economic development of rural and urban communities, the resilience of ecological resources, and critical health issues. Thus, healthy farms and healthy food from farm to consumer table can positively impact the common wealth and common good of Virginia.
Virginia’s agricultural industry is very diverse with different levels of local, regional, national and international trade. Diversity in the agricultural and food system in the form of farmer background and experience, ownership structure, scale, product, production method, and market strategy is one indicator and measure of sustainability of food supply.
“I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture.”
First President of the United States
The economic impact of Virginia agriculture is reported to be $55 billion annually, with the industry providing more than 357,000 jobs across the state. For every job within the agricultural and forestry sector, another 1.5 jobs is supported as an indirect economic benefit and impact. The annual economic impact results from $2.9 billion in direct agricultural output; $26 billion in value-added industrial output; and an additional $26 billion generated from other agriculture-related business output. Even with this economic output, there are still more growing and emerging economic opportunities for Virginia farmers and food entrepreneurs (VDACS, 2011).
The Virginia Farm to Table Plan is focused on emerging local and regional food commerce, and building a strong, demographically diverse, profitable and sustainable food and farm sector across Virginia that provides differentiated place-based products for local and regional markets. Within this context, the Plan aims to help Virginia farmers gain a competitive advantage for increased leverage and position in local and regional markets, while being conscious that many rural and urban communities struggle to afford and access quality healthful foods.
The unprecedented demand for local and regionally identified foods continues to grow in Virginia and across the United States. Low and Vogel (2011) recently reported local food sales, through direct farmer-to-consumer and wholesale market channels, in the U.S. to be $4.8 billion in 2008. The demand has also created a myriad of economic and social opportunities for agricultural producers, entrepreneurs and communities.
From 2002 to 2007, Virginia experienced a 13% increase in the number of farms selling direct to consumers. The value of these direct-to-consumer sales increased 72% over the same time period, from $16.8 million to 28.9 million. Today, Virginia has over 200 farmers markets and 135 Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) operations, and the number continues to grow (USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service 2009a).
Virginia families and households spend over $19 billion annually on food purchases (Meter, 2011). These food dollars can be a powerful economic driver for Virginia’s farm and food economy. Virginia Cooperative Extension estimates that if each household in Virginia spent $10 per week of their food budget on locally-grown Virginia food; $1.65 billion would be generated annually in direct economic impact (Benson and Bendfeldt, 2007).
In 2008, Virginians spent $11 billion on food eaten at home. Foods eaten at home included $2.6 billion worth of meat, poultry, fish and eggs; $1.8 billion of fruits and vegetables; $1.5 billion of cereals and bakery products; $1.2 billion of dairy products; and $3.8 billion of sweets, fats, and oils (Meter, 2011). Therefore, every Virginia community would benefit from more farmers producing products for in-state purchase and consumption.
New business enterprises and community initiatives have been incubated and expanded across the Commonwealth over the past five years. These businesses and initiatives include food hubs, cooperatives, produce auctions, online farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), urban and community gardens, food policy councils and working groups, Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters, crop mobs and gleaning clubs, farm-to-school, university, hospital and institutional procurement programs. However, challenges remain and a more concerted multi-sector statewide food system effort is needed to seize the economic opportunity.
Virginia also has the opportunity to enhance local and regional food systems to improve health outcomes, reduce healthcare costs, and address potential economic leakage in communities due to lost productivity. Economic leakage simply means total sales and economic output within an area are not as much as they could be based on the area’s population, income, capacity and existing resources.
In the past ten years, the prevalence of obesity in Virginia increased from 19.3 to 25.5% of the population. Even though this obesity rate is lower than many other states, the rapid growth and prevalence of chronic diet-related illnesses is costing us lives, quality of life and economic prosperity. In 2006, the total cost of diabetes for people in Virginia was estimated at $4.4 billion.
This estimate includes medical costs in excess of $2.8 billion attributed to diabetes, and lost productivity valued at $1.6 billion (American Diabetes Association, 2008; 2011). Since these expenses are due to preventable diet-related illnesses, increasing access and consumption of fresh, healthy whole foods can help address the prevalence of these diseases and health care expenses. The state would also benefit from lower treatment costs and higher economic activity through time as individuals experience better health.
Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia State University, Virginia Cooperative Extension, The University of Virginia, and the Virginia Food System Council with all its participating organizations initiated the Virginia Farm to Table initiative in September 2010. The goal of the initiative was to strengthen Virginia’s food system and economic future through the development of a comprehensive Virginia Farm to Table Plan that informs and integrates assessment, education, development of programs and infrastructure, policy and funding recommendations to address key issues facing farmers, food entrepreneurs, and communities. A logic model was developed to guide the Virginia Farm to Table Plan development process.
Two key tenets of the Virginia Farm to Table Plan are:
everyone should be educated about the social, economic and environmental importance of Virginia’s food system, and
quality food should be affordable and accessible to everyone in Virginia regardless of their economic means.
Underlying assumptions and key tenets for the development of the Virginia Farm to Table Plan were that ongoing education of the social, environmental, and economic importance of Virginia’s food system would be critical and that quality food should be affordable and accessible to everyone in Virginia regardless of their economic means. The Plan would directly address 1) local regional farm and food markets 2) agricultural economic development, 3) community viability and environmental stewardship, and 4) food access, nutrition and health.
At each stage of the development of the Virginia Farm to Table Plan, input was sought from a variety of stakeholders and the general public. To develop the recommendations, the Virginia Farm to Table Plan Team drew on the expertise and experience of more than 1,920 individuals across the Commonwealth who work in agriculture, aquaculture, fishing, education, finance, philanthropy, nutrition, community planning and economic development, land and natural resources conservation, public policy, local and state government, academics, and youth development.
Major areas and themes identified as challenges at the summits, listening sessions, and through secondary data research of Virginia’s food system include:
Increasing education and direct outreach to consumers, farmers, underserved populations and public officials. Because everyone needs to eat each day to thrive, the food system affects and touches everyone on a daily basis. Therefore, ongoing education and more direct engagement of consumers, farmers, underserved populations and policy makers about Virginia’s food system will be important for market and policy decisions for long-term community economic development, environmental performance and improved health outcomes and social well-being.
Additionally, education about Virginia’s food system should be for all people, from pre-Kindergarten to higher education to consumer and producer awareness.
Cultivating beginning farmers and farm workers for long-term agricultural economic vitality and stability. Virginia, like many other states, is facing an aging farm population and a declining farm work force. The typical Virginia farmer is 58 years old, and faces a plethora of risks and challenges such as volatile markets, high feed and fuel prices, farm transition planning and new environmental requirements (USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2009a.). Even for established farmers, off-farm income and employment that offers healthcare benefits is needed to support the farming operation. For beginning farmers, access to land, experience, and capital are all challenges to address and overcome if farming is to be a full-time profession and career.
Conserving and protecting prime agricultural soils and arable farmland. Urban and suburban development continues to threaten prime agricultural soils and arable farmland in Virginia. From 1982 to 2007, about 7,500 acres of Virginia’s prime agricultural land was developed annually. More recently, from 1997 to 2007, Virginia lost over 649,000 farm acres (USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2009b) . This change and loss is an indicator of development pressure as well as long-term agricultural economic vitality. Once these agricultural soils and lands are developed or paved over, agricultural production opportunities cease and there is no turning back.
Encouraging food system planning in counties’ and cities’ economic development and comprehensive plans. The concept of planning our farming and food system has been under-appreciated and at times overlooked in community planning. Planning must consider soils, water, and natural resources needed for farming and a robust food system, but also needs to consider clustering and networking of essential services and resources for a healthy and resilient food system. Once, communities realize that prime agriculture soils and land have been developed, it is certainly too late in the planning process.
Encouraging ecologically sound farming systems through greater participation and implementation of agricultural best management practices (BMPs), whole farm planning by farmers for comprehensive conservation and profitable management. Healthy communities and a healthy environment are critical components for economic success and prosperity. Farmers value their soil and water resources; therefore, environmental stewardship of their land and Virginia’s working landscapes is critical to long-term profitability and sustainability.
Agriculture and the Chesapeake Bay are two incredible assets for Virginia’s economy, so balancing profitable land management and conservation practices is an ongoing need. Of Virginia’s 47,400 farmers, approximately 10,883 farms or roughly 25% of the farms have implemented some conservation measure on their farm. An additional 11,618 farms practice some form of rotational or management intensive grazing. Virginia farmers have made significant progress in protecting and conserving Virginia’s natural resources, but broader participation is still needed moving forward to support agriculture and protect water quality (Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, 2009).
Addressing community food security, hunger, justice and public health issues. Food is a basic necessity for life, but also for economic productivity and prosperity. And yet, many Virginians struggle to have access to an adequate supply of healthy food to lead an active productive life. Because of economic constraints, many Virginia households must choose between buying foods or paying for other basic household needs and bills like rent, electricity or medical. Virginia’s food insecurity rate at 11.8% is below the national average, but 912,790 individuals are still considered food insecure (Feeding America, 2011).
Additionally, five counties and 5 cities have food insecurity rates of between 19 and 28%, which means 1 in 4 people in those communities does not know where the next meal may come from. For children, food insecurity is even more pronounced across the state with an overall child food insecurity rate of 17.6%. In a few Virginia counties, the childhood food insecurity rate approaches or exceeds 30% (Feeding America, 2011).
Food insecurity among seniors and vulnerable communities is a growing and urgent concern. According to Feeding America, 7.9 percent of households with seniors (2.3 million households) that they feed were food insecure. In 2010, 8.9 percent or 3.4 million older Americans were living below the poverty line. In addition, food insecure seniors were 2.33 times more likely to report fair to poor health status and had higher nutritional risk. Thirty percent of households with seniors that Feeding America serves indicated that they have had to choose between food and medical care and 35 percent had to choose between food and paying for heat or utilities.
As Virginia addresses these food and health concerns, it is important to realize the demographics of food insecurity among the elderly. Food insecurity among seniors is more likely if seniors live in a southern state; are younger; live with a grandchild; are African American; and are Hispanic.
Economic leakage simply means total sales and economic output within an area are not as much as they could be based on the area’s population, income, capacity and existing resources.
As community food security was discussed at the forums, listening sessions and summits, challenging questions were raised about justice, compassion, equity, fairness, profitability, and sustainability. Some questions participants struggled with were: 1) how to make quality food affordable and accessible to everyone in Virginia regardless of their economic means, 2) how to address ‘rural food deserts’ where people live in areas with plenty of land, but do not have access to enough fresh produce to stay healthy and lead an active life, and 3) how to ensure farmers, farm workers and food service personnel earn a decent living through the marketplace without having to depend on government subsidies or having to find additional employment to operate or afford proper health care.
The Virginia Farm to Table Plan should improve food access and health for all Virginians, especially those on low incomes, by expanding community gardens, gleaning networks, electronic benefit transfer (EBT) capabilities at farmers markets and other programs that provide affordable, healthful food to vulnerable and underserved communities.
Promoting agricultural and food system understanding and literacy among K-12 youth by expanding farm-to-school programs. Establishing good eating habits at an early age and among youth is critical for building an appreciation for healthy food and addressing chronic diet-related diseases. Expanding Virginia’s farm-to-school programs can address some of these issues. It can also help youth know where their food comes from as well as build awareness of possible career opportunities within agriculture and the food system.
Coordinating food system policies and regulations, and encouraging more uniformity at the local, regional and state level. More coordination and communication among local, state and federal agencies is needed to encourage market development and entrepreneurial innovation. Ordinances and regulations can also be very divergent from locality to locality depending on commodity, market venue, and processing intent. Understanding which agency or department is responsible for licensing and regulation is complex and can be a significant obstacle for farmers and food entrepreneurs interested in value-added processing and product differentiation.
Additional discussion also centered on developing scale appropriate policies and regulations, making farmland for young farmers more accessible, and encouraging transparency in product labeling.
Accessing and expanding larger volume and institutional market opportunities. Schools, universities, hospitals and other institutions present a market opportunity for Virginia farmers, but scaling up, aggregating, processing, storing and distributing to these markets can be difficult. The cost of food safety requirements and liability insurance can be prohibitive. To stimulate further development of these markets will require education, development of infrastructure, and encouraging policies.
Virginia public schools, as one example of a larger volume market, serve more 681,505 lunches daily to nourish our students and during a 180-day school year more than 122 million lunches are served. If $0.25 a day per student lunch was devoted to purchasing locally-grown Virginia farm products, a total of $170,376 would be generated daily. On an annual basis, more than $30,667,700 would be reinvested into Virginia communities and economy (Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 2011; Virginia Food System Council, 2010).
Virginia public and private universities and colleges offer another large volume market opportunity, but small and mid-sized farmers have difficulty in accessing these markets on a consistent basis.
Coordinating comprehensive business planning, market development trainings, and regional economic development. Farmers and food entrepreneurs all want to succeed, but success can be tenuous and fleeting without sound business planning and market development strategies that adjust to consumer and market demand. With 67% of Virginia farmers making less than $10,000 in gross annual agricultural receipts, coordination, collaboration and recurring trainings on these topics can address this need and encourage the scaling up of business enterprises to meet demand (USDA, National Agricultural Statistical Service, 2011).
Leadership and broad-based participation should be encouraged throughout the farm to table value chain. Quality food should be affordable and accessible to everyone in Virginia as a basic assumption regardless of economic means. Food is a fundamental necessity for individuals, families and communities. The social, economic, and environmental impact of Virginia’s food system is profound and far-reaching; therefore, everyone who is affected by the food system should be encouraged to participate in shaping the food system to better address local needs and optimize community resources. Therefore, more support and acknowledgement of past, current and future efforts at the local and regional level as well as the state will be needed. Additionally, the private sector (for profit and not-for profit) will continue to be a key partner and advocate for local food system activities and advancements.
To increase participation in the development of the Virginia Farm to Table Plan, an online survey instrument was designed and developed to further examine the assessment, education, development and policy needs across the state. Approximately 1,134 people, from 418 distinct zip codes, were surveyed about the needs for the development and advancement of Virginia’s food system (Hightower and Benson, 2011). Through the survey instrument, an additional 34 distinct items were identified as challenges and priorities for advancing Virginia’s farm to table efforts.
The Plan is the product of an inclusive and in-depth process of information gathering and research into issues facing farmers, food entrepreneurs, and communities, and engaging agencies, organizations and institutions. The initial draft recommendations were shared and vetted with representatives from 24 participating organizations and agencies on the Virginia Food System Council, along with participants in the summits, forums, and listening sessions.
The 38 recommendations focus on assessment, education, development, and policy related to four topic areas and overall implementation: 1) Business and Production Management, 2) Market Development, 3) Food System Planning, Management and Policy, 4) Food Security, Food Safety, Diet and Health, and 5) Implementing the Virginia Farm to Table Plan.
The assessment will set baseline data to develop an ongoing report card on Virginia’s local food system. Educational efforts will build the awareness and knowledge of government officials, farmers, food entrepreneurs, consumers, and communities about the food system. Development will build capacity, programs and needed food system infrastructure. Policy will address obstacles and encourage local food system innovation and expansion.
During these tough financial times, on-going and concerted effort to address these farm-to-table recommendations will generate additional revenue, strengthen the state’s economic future, and help the Commonwealth achieve the following goals, objectives, and outcomes:
Encourage business development and expansion
Create and maintain new jobs
Incubate small and mid-sized processing and manufacturing enterprises
Expand in-state and regional markets for locally-grown Virginia farm and food products
Provide incentives for new and established farmers to invest in their farm and food production enterprises
Enhance Virginians access to local food and farm markets regardless of economic means
Improve food security in all Virginia households and communities
Develop the programs and infrastructure needed to deliver more food from Virginia farms to market
Address any policy or regulatory barriers that hinder local farm and food production
Improve access to Virginia farm and food data for producers, consumers and agencies
Encourage new farm start-ups, beginning farmers, and food entrepreneurship
Improve health for Virginians and reduced diet-related health care costs for the state
Promote a sound sustainable environment for long-term economic vitality and community viability
Educate Virginians about the benefits of buying locally-grown Virginia farm and food products.
The Plan also highlights different local and regional farm-to-table initiatives that can serve as models, tools, communities of practices and/or case studies for further developing and expanding of Virginia’s food system. In collaborating and coordinating to implement this Plan, we will grow jobs and new entrepreneurs, encourage durable local and regional economic development around farming and food, maintain farmland and working landscapes, improve public health, increase food security, eliminate rural and urban food deserts, strengthen community viability for a stronger food system and brighter economic future.
“Liquid fuels and fertilizer costs increased 81% and 65%, respectively, in Virginia from 2002 to 2007. And this increase was prior to the major increase in the price of fuel in 2008.”
~ USDA, Agricultural Census 2007.a
Virginia Farm to Table Plan of Action
The Virginia Farm to Table Plan’s objective is to identify issues facing farmers, innovators in the food system, and communities across the state, and to suggest how those can be addressed to strengthen Virginia’s overall food system. The Virginia Farm to Table Plan Team drew on the expertise and experience of more than 1,920 individuals across the Commonwealth who work in agriculture, aquaculture, fishing, education, finance, philanthropy, nutrition, community planning and economic development, land and natural resources conservation, public policy, local and state government, academics, and youth development. The 38 farm to table recommendations were developed and distilled from research and information gathered from farm-to-table summits, forums, listening sessions, an online survey, and focus group meetings conducted over a 15-month period by the Virginia Farm to Table Team and the Virginia Food System Council.
Facilitated discussions were held at the 2nd Virginia Food Security Summit to review the Plan’s top eight recommendations for immediate action and implementation. Based on discussions and results of a written survey at the Summit, the following recommendations for immediate implementation and action were further vetted to develop actionable steps (University of Virginia, 2012).
Criteria for selecting the top three action steps for each recomendation
How powerful is the action likely to be to implementing this strategic priority?
Is the action practical?
Is the action doable in a timeframe of 1- 2 years?
If the action affordable (people, effort, and money)?
Is the action politically feasible?
The Virginia Food System Council with its participating organizations will shepherd and support the implementation of the Virginia Farm to Table Plan by working closely with universities, agencies, organizations, funders and the private sector. The Council will develop and report on within 9 months:
a. A structural framework that is transparent, inclusive, and clear, and that draws connections across sectors.
b. A marketing plan that distinguishes between different constituencies and among different purposes: education, policy, and alliances.
c. A business plan that includes a budget, identifies the variety of funders, and targets specific actions to specific funders.
Work with the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition, coordinated by Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to recruit, train, and establish the next generation of farmers and farm workers to provide quality food through ecologically sound and profitable production systems.
a. Expand farming education in order to re-energize the idea of farming and to address the changing nature of farms.
b. Focus efforts on working and teaching farms that provide training, apprenticeships, and labor opportunities.
c. Expand the marketing in order to help the coalition grow.
Establish a Virginia food system report card to facilitate assessment and collection of baseline data for monitoring hunger, health, environmental performance, and advancements of Virginia’s food system.
a. Conduct an assessment and analysis of local foodsheds in order to build baseline data for the report card.
b. Delineate benchmarks and be sure to address desired outcomes based on a community agreement.
c. Create a working group that is regional and consists of a broad base of stakeholders.
Work with the Virginia Food System Council to remove barriers that impede the development and expansion of the production, processing, distribution, and marketing capacity of locally-grown Virginia foods.
a. Facilitate the development of standards for direct sales to consumers to provide transparency and access to reliable, factual information.
b. Ensure proper scales for establishing processing regulations, infrastructure, and resource assistance for farmers that need help overcoming hurdles.
c. Make farmland more accessible for young farmers (including financially).
Work with state and federal agencies and institutions to increase their support for locally-grown Virginia food and farm products.
a. Overcome bureaucratic regulation barriers for implementing the use of local food in all state and county level institutions.
b. Help producers in overcoming bureaucratic and regulation barriers.
c. Develop education for all people, from pre-Kindergarten to higher education to consumer and producer awareness.
Set measurable goals and track procurement purchases and costs of locally-grown Virginia food and farm products for all state agencies, schools, universities, and other institutions.
a. Streamline and standardize guidelines for purchasers, farmers, and distributors.
b. Educate both purchasers and farmers about all the opportunities that are available to them as well as institutional needs.
c. We need a statewide umbrella system to track progress that works for everyone.
Establish a comprehensive informational website and networking resource for all Virginia local food system resources and ecologically sound farming practices.
a. Identify the user base and the site owner.
b. Spell out how this site would function, what services it would offer, and how it would look.
Establish a marketing campaign to challenge Virginia households and businesses to buy $10 per week of locally-grown Virginia food and farm products year round.
a. Include messages that explain the accessibility and importance of local food.
b. The marketing campaign should take on a variety of forms.
c. The marketing campaign needs to be extensive and intensive to infiltrate and be visible in a wide variety of communities, places, and venues to affect all participants in Virginia’s food system.
Participants of the 2nd Virginia Food Security Summit also emphasized that ongoing education and institutional support should be overarching strategies for advancing the Plan and its implementation. Additionally, summit participants emphasized that the Plan should be undergirded by values of community, compassion, justice, fairness, balanced leadership, equitable participation, resilience, self-reliance, independence, year round availability and accessibility, and a strong viable future for all Virginia farmers and farmland.
Current Issues of Virginia’s Food System
There is unprecedented demand for locally identified Virginia foods. Virginians spend $19 billion annually on food purchases.
If each household in Virginia spent $10 per week of their food budget on locally-grown food; $1.65 billion would be generated annually in direct economic impact.
Healthy soils, air, and water are essential to Virginia’s food system.
Of Virginia’s 47,383 farmers, approximately 10,883 farms or roughly 25% of the farms have implemented some conservation measure on their farm.
Virginia lost over 649,000 farm acres to development from 1997 to 2007.
From 1997 to 2007, Virginia experienced a significant decline in the number of farms having between $50,000 and less than $499,999 of gross annual agricultural receipts.
In 2011, U.S. farmers received only 12 cents of consumers’ food dollar.
Liquid fuels and fertilizer costs increased 81% and 65% in Virginia from 2002 to 2007.
In 2007, the average value of products sold per farm in Virginia was $61,334.
In 2009, Virginia had an adult obesity rate of 25.5%.
In 2006, the total cost of diabetes for people in Virginia was estimated at $4.4 billion.
In Virginia, 912,790 individuals are considered food insecure. Food insecurity among seniors and children is increasing.
Child food insecurity in Virginia is 17.6%.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) monthly participation was projected to be 364,825 Virginia households in 2010.
A Logic Model for the Virginia Farm to Table Plan
Virginia Farm to Table Recommendations at a Glance
In looking at the breadth and scope of Virginia’s food system, the Virginia Farm to Table Team identified four key topic areas as foundational components for strengthening Virginia’s agriculture and food system, advancing public and community health, conserving critical natural resources, enhancing local and state economies, and encouraging community viability and quality of life. The recommendations are based on discussions and input gathered and synthesized from summits, forums, listening sessions, focus group meetings and an online survey around these four topic areas in the chart below. The recommendations below are not listed in order of priority or hierarchical rank, but are recommendations to strengthen Virginia’s food system more comprehensively and systematically through more concerted assessment, education, development, and policies.
|Topic and Objective||Recommendation||Assess-ment (A)||Edu-cation (E)||Develop-ment
|1. Business and Production Management
Objective: To cultivate viable production and profit to assist the Commonwealth in meeting the needs of individual’s efforts at establishing and maintaining responsible businesses along the farm to fork value chain.
|1.1||Develop a business planning educational program for farmers and food entrepreneurs to include:
a. strategic business planning and long-term goal setting;
b. tactical business planning keyed to developing, evaluating, and selecting alternatives that support the businesses’ long-term goals;
c. developing an information system to measure, monitor, and provide feedback
d. understanding the role of credit and financing in new ventures for farmers, entrepreneurs and processors
e. provide on-going education, training, and technical assistance with special attention given to holistic business planning; whole farm planning; ecologically-sound farming systems; best management practices (BMPs); permaculture; and farm resource management planning for effective conservation of soil, water and other natural resources.
|1.2||Assess and identify gaps in current incentives and technical assistance programs supporting Virginia farmers in establishing and implementing whole-farm resource management and comprehensive conservation plans for improved water quality and natural resources conservation.||A||E||D||P|
|1.3||Work with and expand the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition, coordinated by Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to recruit, train, and establish the next generation of farmers and farm workers to provide quality food through ecologically sound and profitable production systems.||E||D||P|
|1.4||Establish a shared database to coordinate and support expansion of farm start-up education, beginning farmer training, mentorships, internship opportunities in the public and private sector from middle school and on up.||E||D|
|1.5||Provide and support farm transition and farmland protection educational programs and consultation services for all parties with a vested interest in the farm (e.g., family, first or second generation farmers, non-family land transfers, Purchase of Development Rights, and Land Conservation Fund).||E||D|
|1.6||Assess the need for teaching farms to provide hands-on training in basic farming techniques and ecologically-based farming systems; acquisition, use, and maintenance of land, equipment, and machinery; and day-to-day business management.||A||E||D|
|1.7||Survey and ascertain basic infrastructure needs throughout Virginia (i.e. slaughter facilities, cooling and packing operations, community kitchens, canneries, mills and market point distribution systems)||A||D||P|
|1.8||Provide technical assistance and business incentives to assist with the development of regional aggregation and distribution sites throughout Virginia.||D|
|1.9||Gather and disseminate ways to improve access to affordable healthcare insurance for farmers and farm workers.||A||D||P|
|Topic and Objective||Recommendation||Assess-ment (A)||Edu-cation (E)||Develop-ment
|2. Market Development
Objective: To expand the local, regional, and institutional market for Virginia produced agriculture and food products through creating new value added and differentiated place-based products.
|2.1||Develop a comprehensive market development educational program at the state and local level to include: 1) strategic market development and long-term goal setting; and 2) tactical market planning for farmers, entrepreneurs and processors.||D|
|2.2||Survey the capacity of Virginia-based meat and other food processing facilities for storage, processing and increased sales and implement these food processing resources where there is an obvious need.||A||D||P|
|2.3||Assess the supply and demand for value-added food processing (i.e., canning, milling, freezing, on-farm milk processing) in Virginia and identify the hindrances and opportunities for operating value-added food processing facilities in the state.||A||D|
|2.4||Assess and establish financial incentives for small and mid-sized value-added food processors in Virginia (i.e., fruits, vegetables, meats and grains).||A||D|
|2.5||Offer recurring Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), as well as Good Aquacultural Practices, educational workshops and training for organic, extending the season, scaling up, opening new market opportunities, and encouraging overall environmental stewardship and food safety.||E|
|2.6||Assess the capacity for establishing other food hubs throughout the state to meet institutional demand.||A|
|2.7||Establish a comprehensive informational website and networking resource for all Virginia local food and food system resources— with information for producers as well as consumers (e.g., Community Food System Explorer).||D|
|2.8||Examine the potential for a Chesapeake Bay brand for Virginia seafood, aquaculture, and food products that recognizes and incentivizes sound environmental practices and the health of the Bay as a key criterion.||A||D|
|2.9||Institute a local ingredient label/sticker on value-added products to incentivize food processors that use Virginia Grown products in their ingredients.||D|
|Topic and Objective||Recommendation||Assess-ment (A)||Edu-cation (E)||Develop-ment
|3. Food System Planning, Management and Policy
Objective: To design and plan healthy, sustainable local and regional food systems to support and enhance the overall public, social, ecological, and economic health of communities.
|3.1||Work with the Virginia Food System Council to remove regulations that impede the development and expansion of the production, processing, distribution, and marketing capacity of locally-grown Virginia foods.||D||P|
|3.2||Evaluate how state and federal agencies and institutions support locally-grown Virginia food and farm products.||A||D||P|
|3.3||Set measurable goals and track procurement purchases and costs of Virginia Grown products for all state agencies, schools, universities and institutions.||D||P|
|3.4||Assess the economic and environmental impacts of local and regional food systems on localities.||A||P|
|3.5||Provide education, resource, and policy support for the Virginia Farm-to-School program to increase the amount of local food procured in Virginia’s public schools.||E||P|
|3.6||Gather and suggest adjustments for purchasing policies of local and state government entities to encourage or incentivize local food procurement.||A||P|
|3.7||Assess the current capacity and participation of localities and permitted waste management facilities in food waste diversion and composting programs.||A||D|
|3.8||Assess, develop and adopt incentives and technical assistance for Third Party Verification programs, including but not limited to USDA Certified Organic, to add further value to Virginia foods based on land management and natural resource conservation.||A||D|
|3.9||Establish a marketing campaign to challenge Virginia households and businesses to buy $10 per week of locally-grown food for one year.||A||D||P|
|Topic and Objective||Recommendation||Assess-ment (A)||Edu-cation (E)||Develop-ment
|4. Food Security, Food Safety, Diet and Health
Objective: To identify ways to improve the integrity of the Virginia’s food system to ensure adequate access and amounts of fresh, nutritious, safe food to all individuals and households in the Commonwealth
|4.1||Identify programs/curricula in Virginia (or elsewhere) that focus on healthy eating and cooking with local and regional foods, focusing first on hands-on, experiential school programs to empower K-12 youth and then to a broader community with topics including:
a. Food choices/origins
b. Safe food preparation and preservation
c. Home and community gardening
d. Food waste awareness
e. Composting and alternative reuse options.
|4.2||Gather and disseminate school, organizational, community and media outlets (e.g., TV and radio) interest in offering educational programs or strategies to their audiences||A||E|
|4.3||Gather and disseminate baseline data on local/community diet and health, food deserts, access and availability (i.e., proximity, transportation, financial/economic, other) to local, regional food systems||A||D|
|4.4||Conduct ongoing assessments of diet and health, food deserts, access and availability (i.e., proximity, transportation, financial/economic, other) to local, regional food systems||A|
|4.5||Conduct a cost and ecological analysis comparing local/regional foods to foods purchased and transported from other states, regions, and countries
a. Consider economic costs, direct, indirect and induced effects, and ecological footprints,
b. Create educational materials and/or a social marketing campaign to share findings from the analysis and embed materials within educational programs/curricula identified under 4.1.
|4.6||Expand the following programs statewide to improve food security, prevent land-filling of recoverable food and encourage reuse:
a. Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) at farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) operations,
b. community gardening,
c. urban agriculture,
d. food gleaning network,
e. hunters and anglers for hunger, and
f. food diversion and composting.
|4.7||Establish a community food system recognition program and a central information hub for hospitals, restaurants, schools, universities and other institutions to award and voluntarily list commitments to procurement of locally-grown Virginia foods.||E||D|
|4.8||Establish Virginia as host site for the Food Corps program, similar to Virginia Tech’s Sustainable Food Corps, to give young adults work and skill training, while addressing food access and security issues.||E||D|
|4.9||Provide education, training and technical assistance to help disadvantaged individuals and communities in rural or urban food deserts establish home and community gardens to grow healthful food for themselves, their families, and neighborhoods.||E||D|
|Topic and Objective||Recommendation||Assess-ment (A)||Edu-cation (E)||Develop-ment
|5. Implementing the Virginia Farm to Table Plan||5.0||The Virginia Food System Council with its participating organizations will shepherd and support the implementation of the Virginia Farm to Table Plan by working closely with agencies, organizations, and the private sector. The Council will develop and report on within 9 months a) a structural framework that is transparent, inclusive, and clear, and that draws connections across sectors; b) a marketing plan that distinguishes between different constituencies and among different purposes: education, policy, and alliances; and c) a business plan that includes a budget, identifies the variety of funders, and targets specific actions to specific funders. The Council will draw on the expertise of Virginia Departments of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Conservation and Recreation, Environmental Quality, Commerce, Education, Health, Mines, Minerals, and Energy, Social Services, Transportation, Virginia Tourism, academic institutions, private industry, and nonprofit partners.||A||E||D||P|
|5.1||Establish a Virginia food system report card to facilitate assessment and collection of baseline data for monitoring hunger, health, environmental performance, and advancements of Virginia’s food system.||A||E||D||P|
References for Executive Summary
American Diabetes Association, 2008. Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2007. Diabetes Care, Vol. 31(3):596 - 615, March 2008.
American Diabetes Association, 2011. The Estimated Prevalence and Cost of Diabetes in Virginia. Retrieved from http://www. diabetesarchive.net/advocacy-and-legalresources/cost-of-diabetes-results.jsp?state=Virginia&district=0&DistName=Virginia+(Entir e+State)
Bendfeldt, E.S., Walker, M., Bunn, T., Martin, L., and Barrow, M. 2011. A Community-based Food System: Building Health, Wealth, Connection and Capacity as the Foundation of Our Economic Future. (Blacksburg, Virginia: Virginia Cooperative Extension May 2011. Retrieved from http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/3306/3306-9029/3306-9029-PDF.pdf
Benson, M. and Hightower, L. 2011. Building Understanding of Virginia’s Food Systems: An Overview of Virginia’s Local Food Assets, Resources, Successes, and Challenges. Presentation at March 29, 2011, Virginia Farm-to-Table Summit, Blacksburg, Virginia.
Benson, M., and E. Bendfeldt. 2007. Annual Community Food Dollars Generated if Each Household in Virginia Spent $10/Week of Their Total Food Dollars on Fresh Local Produce and Farm-Based Virginia Products. Virginia Cooperative Extension bulletin.
Denckla Cobb, T. 2011. Virginia – An Emerging Leader in the Nation’s Local Food Movement. The Virginia News Letter. Vol. 86. No. 6. September 2011.
Feeding America. 2011. Map the Meal Gap. Retrieved from http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-studies/map-themeal-gap.aspx
Hightower, L. and Benson, M. 2011. Virginia Farm to Table Survey Methodology and Results. Virginia Tech Department of Agriculture and Extension Education. Blacksburg, Virginia.
Low. S.A. and Vogel, S. 2011. Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States. ERR-128. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, November 2011.
Meter, K. 2011. Martinsville/Henry County Region (Virginia and North Carolina) Local Food and Farm Study. Crossroads Resource Center. www.crcworks.org.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2009a, February 4). Census of Agriculture –2007 Census Publications – Volume 1, Chapter 1: U.S. National Level Data, Table 2. Retrieved from http://www.agcensus.usda. gov/Publications/2007/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_US/st99_1_002_002.pdf
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2009b, February 4). Census of Agriculture– 2007 Census Publications – Volume 1, Chapter 1: State Level – Virginia, Table 2. Retrieved from http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/ Publications/2007/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_State_Level/Virginia/st51_1_002_002.pdf
University of Virginia. 2012. 2nd Virginia Food Security Summit Report. University of Virginia, Institute for Environmental Negotiation. Charlottesville, Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.virginiafoodsummit.org.
Virginia Department of Agriculture. 2011. VAgriculture 2010-2011 Facts and Figures. Retrieved at www.vdacs.virginia.gov.
Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. 2009. Census Finds Dramatic Loss of Virginia Farmland. Cultivate. March 2009. p. 9. Retrieved from http://www.VirginiaFarmBureau.com
Virginia Food System Council. 2010. Virginia Food System Council. Retrieved from http://virginiafoodsystemcouncil.org
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August 29, 2018