Beginning farmers in Virginia will soon have access to additional education, training, and networking support, thanks to a team of Virginia Tech researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The project — funded by a $740,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) — is expected to enhance food security, community viability, and agricultural profitability in Virginia.

“Like similar beginning farmer initiatives, our project is a critical response to maintain the viability of new farms and the economic, social, and environmental fabric of which they are a part,” said Kim Niewolny, assistant professor of agricultural and Extension education and project director.

“Virginia’s beginning farmer situation reflects a national trend where we see an overwhelming concern of a steady decline in the number of individuals entering into agriculture, coupled by an increase in the number of exiting farmers. At this time, little is known about the roughly 13,000 principal farmers in Virginia who have been on their current farms or ranches nine or fewer years. Even less is known about Virginia’s ‘aspiring’ farmer community — those who are considering farming as a first or second career option.”

According to Niewolny, the project team is currently building a coalition of organizations that will collaborate to help support beginning farmers enter into and expand markets that will enhance the viability of their farms and communities. The project will complement recent Virginia Tech reports that express the need to support and “grow” new farmers for a food-secure and sustainable Virginia.