The Rural Areas Focus Group seeks, as part of its mission, to foster agriculture and forestry as sustainable means of preserving open space and rural environment in Albemarle County. The two of us were appointed as a subcommittee to seek ways to accomplish this purpose. We were asked to recommend means of implementing ag/forestry issues while avoiding overlaps with other organizations. Goals mentioned included "creative alternative ag uses that are compatible with rural living," "technical assistance," and "farm economics and other farm-related businesses."
Our efforts were based on the thesis that with Albemarle's structure of real estate values, land can be held open only so long as it can financially productive. In today's economic climate, neither agriculture nor forestry can support the required investment without strongly supportive policies and assistance. Such support is essential from County leadership.
We consulted Virginia Cooperative Extension officials, who recommended an economic development specialist in agriculture, or "Agriculture Development Officer" as a County staff position to accomplish virtually all the goals envisioned by our focus group. This position would be complementary to existing resource persons, and would make possible a wide range of supportive, innovative, organizational, technical, and educational functions. Such a position is already in place in a number of Virginia counties, including Fauquier, Halifax, Loudoun, and the city of Virginia Beach.
We discussed the program in Fauquier with its agricultural extension agent and its agricultural development officer, both of whom spoke enthusiastically of the collaborative nature of their work and of its results. The mission of the Ag Development Officer is threefold: to promote Fauquier County agriculture, to enhance Fauquier County agriculture, and to advise the Board of Supervisors on agricultural needs and policy. Some results that have been accomplished or are under way include promotion and marketing assistance for locally grown produce, sponsorship of the county fair; an annual small farms festival; and extensive annual farm tour; attracting small processing plants for locally produced meats, poultry, organic dairy products, vegetables, etc.; promotion for existing marketing efforts, such as the local livestock market ("we're not going to let them fail"); development of a program web site; etc.
Fauquier County fully funds the ag development position, along with minimal staff help (which appears to be in the form of partial time from other staff). The county also has an "economic incentive fund" to attract ag-related businesses.
Peter Mitchell, Fauquier Ag Development Officer, has offered to visit Albemarle to discuss his responsibilities and program. Counterparts in other municipalities (who we have not consulted), who could provide further insights, are
Susanne Heflin, Halifax (formerly with Fauquier)
Lou Nichols, Loudoun
Melvin Adams, Virginia Beach
There is a great deal that can be done to enhance and support agriculture by a well-qualified staff person, as well as by such a financial commitment as Fauquier's economic incentive fund. Such support should specifically encourage a wide range of non-intrusive non-traditional agricultural initiatives, specifically including and encouraging agri-tourism and its variants.
Our recommendation is that Albemarle County promptly set up an agricultural development office, provide funding for its staff, and consider additional funding for recruitment of businesses which would support local agricultural profitability.
Frederick W. Scott, Jr.
A. Colquitt Shackelford, Jr.
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