Loudoun County, Virginia’s Economic Development Department has taken an important step forward to strengthen the county’s thriving agricultural industry. Today the department announces the first graduates from Virginia’s new Certified Mentor Farmer Program, all four of whom work in Loudoun County.
Virginia’s first certified mentor farmers are Doug Fabbioli, owner of Fabbioli Cellars; Ben Sedlins, vineyard manager of Fabbioli Cellars; John Moore, Farm Manager at Temple Hall Farm Park, and Sarah Searle.
“The small businesses that make up Loudoun’s agricultural sector contribute $69 million to the county’s revenue every year,” said Loudoun Economic Development Director Buddy Rizer. “The Mentor Farmer Program is one of the ways we’re growing the pipeline of future successful business owners in Loudoun County.”
Loudoun Economic Development partnered on the program with Virginia Cooperative Extension-Loudoun and Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Extension Agent and Mentor Coordinator Jim Hilleary explained that VA Tech faculty developed the program curriculum as a template that county extension agents can modify to meet local learning needs. He added that Loudoun County was “out of the gate first” because the timing was right for VA Tech, Loudoun Economic Development, Loudoun’s Cooperative Extension staff, and the four aspiring mentor farmers.
To achieve certification, Loudoun farmers forward an application to Hilleary. If selected, mentor candidates complete training provided by Extension staff in Leesburg. Hilleary introduces certified mentor farmers to local 'mentee' farmers who must also complete prerequisite training. Recently, several Loudoun residents received that instruction during classes held at the Middleburg Agriculture and Research Extension Center.
“The mentors are going to offer new farmers the benefit of real-world experience gained from years of successful farm production. This will include technical assistance with things like field and crop planning, farm management, buying and selling livestock, organic production, and marketing,” said Loudoun Agricultural Development Officer Kellie Boles.
Loudoun's Certified Mentor Farmer Program and its associated Beginning Farmer Program support the Rural Economic Business Development Strategy approved by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. The goal of the REBDS is to double Loudoun's rural economy by 2023.
Loudoun’s first four mentor farmers will be profiled on the economic development blog at biz.loudoun.gov. For details about the program, contact Jim Hilleary at 703-777-0373 or Jim.Hilleary@vt.edu.
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