Richland Dairy

Community farm dinners are one way Virginia farmers share the agriculture story with consumers, inviting them to learn about the foods they’re eating. Photo courtesy of Richland Dairy

Agriculture is thriving and growing in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and advocates are helping consumers better understand modern production methods while supporting young people as they explore agricultural careers.

AGvocates Reach Out

Rockingham County’s Lauren Arbogast is one of five Faces of Farming & Ranching recognized by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. Arbogast grew up in the Newport News area and knew nothing about agriculture. While attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, she met and married a farmer. She advocates for agriculture through her job as a teacher, and her blog, entitled Paint The Town Ag{riculture}.

“What drives a lot of my passion for this is from an educational side and also from a parenting side – two hats that I wear all the time,” Arbogast says. “I’ve been called an interpreter before simply because of my past as a full-out consumer and then transition into the agriculture side. Just being able to wear both hats allows me some unique conversations with people.”

Arbogast recently hosted 275 people at a Breakfast on the Farm event. The self-paced experience included free breakfast and educational stations about farm equipment, various commodities, the dairy and poultry industries, crops and the environment, and even biosecurity.

Diary Cow

Photo by Jeff Adkins/Farm Flavor Media

A similar event at Richlands Dairy Farm near Blackstone saw area farmers sit down with guests to enjoy a family-style meal featuring locally grown food. The intimate Dinner on the Dairy included a four-course meal, beverages and a tour of the dairy.

“When you have questions about your health, you ask a doctor. When you have questions about your food, you should really ask a farmer,” says Coley Jones Drinkwater, vice president of the family-owned Richlands Dairy Farm.

The tour stopped at the milking parlor and the tank room, and gave information on milk processing, housing and animal nutrition. Jones Drinkwater says sharing the everyday life of a farmer is important.

“We want to be here. We want to share our farm with you, and I think that’s becoming more important as people are now three to four generations removed from their food source. I understand that there are questions about where your food comes from. And there is nothing on our farm that I won’t show, no practice that I won’t explain.”

Showcasing Agriculture

Agriculture is also on display each year at the State Fair of Virginia. The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is the nation’s only Farm Bureau to own a state fair, spokesman Greg Hicks says.

“When Virginia Farm Bureau Federation purchased the State Fair, it was our intent to grow the agricultural presence at the event,” Hicks says. “This not only preserved an iconic event that was in jeopardy of losing its farming heritage, but it gave us an opportunity to better showcase what is Virginia’s largest industry.”

The most recent event included a farm-to-fork dinner, agripuppets children’s show and a showcase of horse breeds.

Courtesy of Richland Dairy

Photo courtesy of Richland Dairy

Growing the Next Generation

The State Fair of Virginia also provides opportunities for 4-H and FFA members, awarding up to $70,000 annually to winners of youth competitions. Proceeds from the Sale of Champions at the fair benefit the scholarship fund and offer further support for youth in agriculture. Virginia State FFA President Tess Seibel says her FFA experience helped her develop from a shy individual into an advocate for agriculture.

“FFA has helped me become an individual who is ready to take a stand, have a voice and hold a leadership position,” Seibel says.

Moving forward, Virginia FFA is planning new leadership conferences including a service and advocacy conference to be held in early 2018.

1 COMMENT

  1. Where was the agripuppet children’s show advertised? We attended the fork to table dinner at Richland dairy farm. The food was delicious and the tour around the farm was so informative.

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