Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results, the state’s premier agricultural leadership training program, celebrated the graduation of its second class of leadership fellows at the Hotel Roanoke on July 16.
The three-day event was marked by graduating fellows completing a service project with hunger relief organization Feeding America and culminated with an evening reception and dinner ceremony at the historic hotel. The ceremony closed with an alumni breakfast to matriculate graduating fellows into their new roles as agricultural leaders in their respective communities.
VALOR is one program of about 40 active agricultural leadership programs in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia that promotes culturally appropriate agricultural leadership training that uses a research-based experiential learning approach to build professional leadership skills. The program is housed in Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education.
Graduating fellows include:
- Marilyn Adams, a Farm Credit branch manager from Purcellville, Virginia;
- Lauren Arbogast, a digital learning designer and poultry producer from Harrisonburg, Virginia;
- Shelley Barlow, a cotton and row crop farmer from Chuckatuck, Virginia;
- Timothy Durham, Ferrum College assistant professor of agronomy from Callaway, Virginia;
- Basil Gooden, state director of Rural Development (USDA) and Virginia’s incoming secretary of agriculture and forestry from Buckingham, Virginia;
- M. James Faison, President, Milton’s Local from Hopewell, Virginia;
- Jennifer Leech, a dairy herdsperson from Lexington, Virginia;
- Albert Reid, a Virginia State University 4-H specialist from Ettrick, Virginia;
- Adam Shiflett, Farm Credit lending team leader from Staunton, Virginia;
- Josh Stephens, a petroleum sales manager from Quicksburg, Virginia;
- Joe Wilkerson, landscaping business owner from South Boston, Virginia; and
- Cliff Williamson, regulatory affairs with the American Horse Council from Culpeper, Virginia.
“This class brought a new level of diverse backgrounds and ideas to VALOR,” said Director Megan Seibel. “As a collective voice, representing individual strengths and interests, they join the alumni in gaining recognition for the profound potential of our program and its fellows.”
This year’s graduates come from myriad fields of the agriculture industry and run the gamut from policymakers to producers, including row-crop and dairy farmers, bankers, agricultural lenders, government officials, and local food purveyors. The youngest graduate manages her family’s 300-head Shenandoah Valley dairy herd and another raises cotton and soybeans near Suffolk.
On a farmer-friendly schedule, these fellows have met every other month for two years to train, network, and travel throughout Virginia’s nine distinct agricultural regions.
As they travel, the fellows are hosted by agricultural leaders who illustrate regional realities, challenges, and innovations on their family farms, dairies, vineyards, orchards, urban greenhouses, soybean fields, fishing boats, and forests.
Course-based learning and hands-on experience throughout the state prepare fellows to lead their own communities in civic discourse and decision-making, guiding and engaging others in community action and problem-solving.
In addition to boots-on-the-ground agriculture production, agricultural policy and communication are part of the training when fellows visit the state and nation's capitals. An international experience crowns each VALOR program by couching Virginia agriculture in the context of world trade, cooperation, and global connectivity. This spring the class visited Vietnam to gain a global perspective on agriculture.
Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry, employing 400,000 farmers and workers and generating approximately $70 billion annually. Agriculture supports biological and cultural diversity, while protecting water and soil quality.
“VALOR prepares people to engage in community discourse,” said Josh Stephens, graduating fellow and family farmer who raises beef and goats in Quicksburg, Virginia. "Keeping agriculture a viable industry in our county is beneficial, and all forms of agriculture need to be embraced."
Support for VALOR comes from the Farm Credit of the Virginias and the Virginia Farm Bureau, small businesses, foundations, and generous individuals.