Agriculture is one of Virginia’s largest industries – contributing more than $55 billion annually to the state’s economy and providing more than 357,000 jobs. But Virginia ranks 11th in the U.S. for the amount of prime agricultural land lost annually, with more than 20,000 acres going out of production each year, and today’s average farmer is nearly 60 years old, which causes many to question what the future holds for Virginia’s agricultural economy.
The number of farm entrepreneurs, however, is growing – inspired by consumer demand for fresh, local foods in Virginia. But these next-generation and beginning farmers face significant challenges – and it is to help meet those challenges that the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) offers its sixth “Exploring the Small Farm Dream” course.
The PEC course is for those considering launching their first small-farm enterprise – or a new farm enterprise on an existing farm – but who are not sure where to start. Designed to guide participants through the initial decision-making process, “Exploring the Small Farm Dream” helps participants evaluate their assumptions and bridges the gap between the “dream” and action.
Pablo Elliot, experienced vegetable grower from Prince William County, and Sue Ellen Johnson, PEC’s director of agriculture and rural economy, are the course’s instructors.
“This course helps participants identify the resources they will need for success,” Johnson said. “During the four interactive sessions, the ‘explorers’ will determine whether the farm enterprise they have in mind is right and practical for them – or if there is another, better way for them to contribute to the local food system, agrarian landscape, and rural lifestyle.”
The course meets 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Choice Building in Culpeper (215 E. Davis St.) every Wednesday from Feb. 20 to March 13. Registration is $160, plus $24 for the course workbook (a single farm can share a registration and workbook). For more information, call PEC’s Karen Hunsberger at 540-316-9973.