The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has announced that Governor Robert F. McDonnell has declared March 13–19, 2011 Virginia Agriculture Week and Virginia Agriculture Literacy Week.

“Governors in Virginia have declared Agriculture Week for decades,” said Matt Lohr, VDACS Commissioner, “but this is the first year we have combined Ag Week with Ag Literacy Week. To celebrate, the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, our Deputy Commissioner, the Secretary of Education, Farm Bureau members, VDACS staff and Board members and private citizens throughout the Commonwealth will join me in reading a book called Ready, Set GROW! to students in K–3rd grades all around Virginia. Schedule permitting, First Lady Maureen McDonnell will participate, as well.”

The book is produced by the Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom program. It is a rhyming book about life on a Virginia farm and features Farmer Ben and Sandy the dog. Sandy will not be appearing at an Ag Literacy Week event, but Annie the Reading Dog will visit Fox Elementary School in Richmond March 15 with Commissioner Lohr.

Lohr will read to some kindergarten classes, and Annie will listen as students in other classes read to her. After each reading, she’ll do tricks. Lohr also will read to a school in South Boston as well as Lacey Spring Elementary in Rockingham County.

Agriculture Week is an important celebration in Virginia because agriculture is the state’s largest industry and contributes $55 billion to the state’s economy each year. Agricultural exports add a very positive note to the state’s economy, with $2.26 billion in exports in 2010.

Commissioner Lohr, who was an ag educator, says that young students need to understand the importance of Virginia agriculture and that Ag Week/Ag Literacy Week is a great time to educate them. “We won’t go in and read a book and then leave,” he said. “We will talk to them about our farms and our farmers. We’ll tell them that agriculture isn’t just corn and tomatoes. It includes livestock and seafood as well as crops, manufactured products as well as fresh-from-the-field products. It even includes tourism.”

Lohr says he will encourage students and teachers to go to to find a farm near them where they can pick strawberries or pumpkins, ride a pony, get lost in a corn maze or ride a barrel train.

“Agritourism is a growing industry in Virginia,” he said, “and each year we have more farms that invite people to come and experience life on a farm first-hand.”

Click here for information on Ag Week. For more information on Ag Literacy Week click here.