Virginia Cooperative Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service, in cooperation with community partners, will host the 2012 Virginia Farm to Table Conference on Dec. 5 and 6. This year’s theme is “Food and Farming at a Profitable and Sustainable Scale.”

The two-day conference will be held at Blue Ridge Community College’s Robert E. Plecker Workforce Center in Weyers Cave, Va. Speakers and panelists will address critical challenges surrounding a sustainable local food system. Individuals and groups interested in boosting local and regional economies, working to develop and grow community enterprises and startup businesses, and supporting local agriculture and conservation of natural resources are encouraged to attend.

“Everyone is interested in strengthening the economy. This conference aims to build the economy from the ground up through local agriculture and greater community involvement,” said Eric S. Bendfeldt, community viability specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension.

The first day of the conference will focus on food and farming in the 21st century and will conclude with a Buy Fresh Buy Local mixer intended to encourage networking among conference participants. The second day will focus on community-funded and -supported investment, capital needs, cooperatives, and scale. The conference will offer concurrent sessions on specific topics and concrete ways for sourcing food locally and for strengthening the regional food economy.

Michael Shuman of Cutting Edge Capital and author of “Local Dollars, Local Sense” is a featured presenter. He will speak Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. as part of the Buy Fresh Buy Local mixer and again on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 9 a.m.  

Other featured speakers and panel members include the following:

  • Matt Lohr, commissioner, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
  • Ed Jones, director, Virginia Cooperative Extension
  • Michael Shuman, Fellow, Cutting Edge Capital, and author of “Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Move Your Money From Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity”
  • Elizabeth Ü, founder and executive director, Finance for Food, and author of “Raising Dough: The Complete Guide to Financing a Socially Responsible Food Business”
  • Francis Thicke of Radiance Dairy and author of “A New Vision for Iowa Food and Agriculture”
  • Marten Jenkins, founder and president, Natural Capital Investment Fund
  • Cristina Cain, executive director, Staunton Creative Community Fund
  • Libby Norris, Virginia watershed restoration scientist, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Bill Comstock, regional lending manager, Farm Credit of the Virginias
  • Leslie Schaller, director of programming, The Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet)
  • Brent Beidler of Beidler Family Farm and the Organic Valley Family of Farms
  • Fred Kirschenmann, president, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, and Distinguished Fellow, Leopold Center
  • Ray Archuleta, conservation agronomist, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Warren Taylor, owner and CEO, Snowville Creamery
  • Betty Mitchell, executive director, The Highland Center
  • Allie Hill, project director, Virginia Food Works
  • Jim Mason, president, Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative
  • Tad Williams, board member, Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative

To register, visit the Virginia Farm to Table Conference website or call Virginia Cooperative Extension at 540-432-6029, ext. 106 or 107, by Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. The cost for the two-day conference is $80. One-day and discounted rates are available for students and producers.

If you have questions or would like more information about the 2012 Virginia Farm to Table Conference, please contact Eric Bendfeldt, Extension community viability specialist, at 540-432-6029, ext. 106, or Kathy Holm, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service resource conservationist, at 540-434-1404, ext. 114.

Directions to the Robert E. Plecker Workforce Center at Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, Va.: From I-81, take Exit 235. Turn west at the top of the exit ramp onto Route 256. In a very short distance, Route 256 ends at U.S. Route 11. Turn left (south) at the stoplight onto U.S. Route 11. BRCC is about a half mile on the left. Parking for the Plecker Workforce Center can be accessed by using the south (second) entrance, beside the Central Shenandoah Criminal Justice Training Academy.