The Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project takes a three-tier approach where project activity will simultaneously occur at the local, regional, and state levels to meet the needs of Virginia’s aspiring and establishing farmers. “This is a shift on how we approach beginning farmer education for adults,” said Niewolny. “Using participatory methods, our project will provide the first statewide assessment of expressed programming needs for Virginia’s beginning farmers and the service providers who work with them.”

With the coalition at the heart of the project, Virginia Tech will work with several non-governmental and community-based organizations across the Commonwealth to support beginning farmers through classroom, online, and hands-on learning opportunities.

Topics center on whole-farm planning in such focus areas as small-farm business planning, land acquisition and tenure, agricultural marketing, and sustainable farming practices. In addition, the project aims to include mentoring and social networking opportunities through which beginning farmers can gain vital skills, information, technical assistance, and business capacity for long-term agricultural viability.

“There appears to be a need to connect established farmers with beginning farmers,” explained Niewolny. “Here, we can directly strengthen hands-on training and networking opportunities by facilitating the exchange of knowledge and skills of experienced farmers and ranchers with the beginning farmer community.”

Coalition members include Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University’s Small Farm Outreach Program, AgriAbility Virginia Project, VT EarthWorks, Local Food Hub, Virginia Association for Biological Farming, Young Farmers of Virginia, Virginia FFA Association, Virginia Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Virginia Farm Link Program, and Hethwood Market.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded the grant through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, an education, training, technical assistance, and outreach program designed to help U.S. farmers and ranchers — specifically those who have been farming or ranching for 10 years or fewer. Under the program, which was established through the 2008 farm bill, NIFA makes grants to organizations that will implement programs to help beginning farmers and ranchers.

Nationally ranked among the top research institutions of its kind, Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences focuses on the science and business of living systems through learning, discovery, and engagement. The college’s comprehensive curriculum gives more than 2,400 students in a dozen academic departments a balanced education that ranges from food and fiber production to economics to human health. Students learn from the world’s leading agricultural scientists, who bring the latest science and technology into the classroom.