Farmers and farm lovers visited Virginia State University’s (VSU) Randolph Farm in Ettrick last Tuesday for the 26th Annual Agriculture Field Day, an event held by the university to benefit local, small-scale farmers.
“Agriculture Field Day is really to showcase the latest in agriculture production services that we’re researching in our extension division,” said Dr. Jewel Hairston, dean/administrator of VSU’s School of Agriculture. “This year we’re focusing on practical tools for the 21st century landowner, so we are showcasing some of the new tools and management strategies for farmers that they can utilize.”
According to Hairston, part of VSU’s mission is working with “small-scale” farmers “to help them diversify so that they can remain economically viable.”
At least 200 hundred people gathered at Randolph Farm that morning, first hearing numerous VSU faculty members speak on the occasion, then scattering throughout the 417-acre farm. They were then taken on numerous tractor rides; various stations they stopped at included displays and demonstrations on: computer software for farm management; eating healthy and cooking fresh produce; various systems to maintain water quality; the necessary equipment used for fish farming in freshwater ponds; and effective production and marketing strategies, to name a few.
One of those stations lead visitors to the outdoor office of Dr. Reza Rafie, an extension specialist with VSU’s Cooperative Extension program. He said their program works to help small-scale farmers not only improve the quality of their produce, but it also serves to market the same produce in the most effective way possible.
Rather than going through the wholesale process that “big growers” endure, he said the university can, under its new initiative, “test market” what they are growing, in turn helping the farmers’ profits.
“This is of interest to us because it provides the farmer with not only how to grow this produce, but also to how market them; so we provide the complete package,” he said.
According to Dr. Rafie, farmers will partner with VSU to sell the produce from Randolph Farm under “test-marketed from VSU,” with 50 percent of profits put toward scholarships for students in VSU’s School of Agriculture.
Antonio McLaren, a VSU graduate and liaison officer for USDA, spoke that morning to the crowd of people. One issue he illuminated was that agriculture was more than merely farms with cows, chickens, tractors and such – it is a world-wide industry capable of greatly impacting the world.
“Agriculture is probably one of the few industries to touch every human life on a daily basis,” McLaren said. “… This nation and the rest of the world can really fuel an economic comeback on the back of agriculture. It is the only industry that transcends everything else we do.”
For more information, call VSU’s School of Agriculture at 524-5672, or visits the university online at www.vsu.edu.