Virginia’s two land-grant universities, Virginia State University (VSU) in Ettrick and Blacksburg’s Virginia Tech, offer a diverse range of agricultural degree programs designed to prepare students to take on the career of their choice upon graduation.
From agribusiness and animal science to agricultural education and environmental science, these institutions have a wide variety of majors to suit ag degree seekers of all kinds. Combine that with the unique resources and opportunities both Virginia Tech and VSU offer and it’s no wonder why so many graduates are finding success in the industry.
Lifelong Interest in Agriculture Leads to Virginia Tech
Growing up on an equine farm in the rural community of Culpeper, Courtney Umbarger has had an appreciation for agriculture since she was a child, and that’s what brought her to Virginia Tech.
After high school, Umbarger enrolled in the university’s two-year agricultural technology program in the fall of 2006, where she focused on animal science. She says she remembers spending time on Virginia Tech’s College Farm Operation, and through the program, she had several opportunities to travel to farms across the state and learn
more about their practices.
Umbarger also completed an internship during her time at Virginia Tech, working with the dairy agent in the Wythe County office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
“I was looking for a hands-on, well-rounded program, and that’s what I found at Virginia Tech,” Umbarger says. “It was a great fit for me. I learned so much, and I’m still putting that knowledge to use today.”
After graduating from Virginia Tech’s agricultural technology program in 2008, Umbarger worked as a teacher’s aide. She says it was then she realized her passion for sharing agriculture with the next generation.
“I realized that my role might not necessarily be in production agriculture, but instead in helping children learn about where their food comes from, teaching them how they can support local farmers and showing them that being involved in ag can be in many different forms,” Umbarger says.
Today she is living out that mission alongside her husband, Seth, a fellow Virginia Tech graduate. The pair own Laurel Springs Farm, an all-natural beef cattle operation in Marion that supplies beef directly to local consumers.
While Umbarger’s husband handles the farming side of the business, she runs the retail aspect, which she expanded in the spring of 2016 after completing a “small business boot camp” hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Smyth County. Umbarger won a $5,000 grant, which she used to create what is now the Laurel Springs Farm retail store.
“We sell pasture-raised, grain-finished beef in a variety of cuts, as well as fresh eggs from our laying hens at several farmers markets and to restaurants,” Umbarger says. “Laurel Springs Farm also hosts a farm-to-table dinner with the Town of Marion, and all proceeds go to the Marion Regional Farmers’ Market’s Fresh Sprouts kids’ incentive program. Through Fresh Sprouts, children ages 12 and under can participate in educational programs in exchange for tokens they can spend at the market.”
Umbarger also serves as a leader in the Virginia Farm to School Program for Region 7, and regularly hosts local school groups on their farm – including students from Virginia Tech.
“We try to give back to Virginia Tech as often as we can because the university has given us so much,” says Umbarger, who received Virginia Tech’s 2017-18 College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Outstanding Recent Undergraduate Alumni Award for the Department of Agricultural Technology.