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Farm-to-table plan to be shared with Virginia legislators

BLACKSBURG—Virginia is one step closer to having a formal farm-to-table plan in place.

Under the leadership of the Virginia Food System Council and the Virginia Tech Farm to Table Team, a variety of groups produced Virginia Farm to Table: Healthy Farms and Healthy Food for the Common Wealth and the Common Good. The plan will be shared with state legislators during this year’s General Assembly.

“This is a document for anyone and everyone who cares about food. We obviously want legislators to embrace it,” said Spencer Neale, senior assistant director of commodity marketing for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, which is a member of the VFSC.

The council was created in 2007 to devise and strengthen a comprehensive local foods system through better coordination and more multi-sector collaboration. It consists of agriculture groups, consumers, farmers, school representatives and others.

“Initially, we’re not asking for money, legislation or regulatory changes,” Neale said. “The plan looks at the whole food system from when a seed is planted or a calf is born to when that food gets on someone’s plate. It will help us determine how Virginia’s food systems can be strengthened. This is the beginning of a long-term process.”

The plan is the culmination of forums, focus groups and online surveys that gathered input from all parts of Virginia’s food systems.

“Our hope is that this guide will help raise awareness of the issues surrounding our farm-to-table system, such as the long-term profitability and sustainability of Virginia farmers,” said Eric Bendfeldt, Virginia Cooperative Extension community viability specialist and chairman of the VFSC.

As many as 14 other states have formed or are in the process of developing plans similar to Virginia’s.

“As farm systems have gotten more efficient and grown larger, it’s made it harder for small and mid-size operations to compete,” Neale said. “This type of plan emphasizes local and regional opportunities without discounting current agricultural operations.”

The plan recommends several actions. Among them is creating a marketing campaign to challenge Virginia households and businesses to spend $10 per week on locally grown food and other farm products year-round.

An Extension study found that if every household in Virginia did that, it would add $1.65 billion to the state’s economy annually.

Contact Neale at 804-290-1153 or Bendfeldt at 540-432-6029.

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