Forage council offers one-on-one mentoring for producers in Va.
People going into the beef cattle business in some parts of Virginia have a new tool to help them learn the business.
The Virginia Forage and Grassland Council is offering its Farmer-to-Farmer Mentor Program for the second year.
Jessica Andrews, a life-long Californian and refugee from the devastating fires there, is a member of the first class.
She and her husband Scott are jumping into the beef cattle business at a time when many people are winding down.
They are in their mid-50s. She says the mentoring program has jump started the family’s first-time-ever farming operation in Rockbridge County.
Jacob Gilley’s professional life led him to be a mentor in the program that started last year.
He and his wife Jennifer operate a diversified farm in Madison County. He serves on the VFGC board of directors.
His day-job is Mid-Atlantic sustainable grazing manager for the American Farmland Trust. He mentored two new farmers, using knowledge gleaned from both endeavors.
Farmers teaching farmers is the aim of the program, Becky Szarzynski, VFGC mentor program coordinator, said. It couples veteran farmers with newcomers to help them with their occupation.
Gilley gave Szarzynski credit for designing the program where experienced farmers help beginner farmers increase implementation of prescribed grazing practices to improve production and soil health.
While his group’s efforts are the same as VFGC’s he finds the way she developed it to be more organized in getting the word to the new farmers.
The American Farmland Trust, founded in 1980, was organized to save the nation’s farms and ranches. More information about that group is available at www.farmland.org.
A person considering joining the VFGC program this year need to answer the following three questions according to Szarzynski.
Are you a beginner farmer wanting to learn more about rotational or prescribed grazing strategies?
Are you wanting to increase the health and productivity of your farm’s soils? A yes answer to all three means you are eligible.
Szarzynski is the person to contact at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 540-461-0969. This needs to be done quickly as the number of mentees is limited to 10.
Early in the program Szarzynski became Andrews’ mentor. The Andrews family arrived a quarter mile down the road from the Szarzynski in June 2021.
They had struggled to rebuild her husband’s family farm after the Tubbs fire in 2017 in California. Troubles and more fires resulted in the loss of everything the family had.
“The fires just kept coming and coming and coming,” Jessica Andrews said, the desperation echoing over phone lines years and miles later.
They are now restoring a 60-acre Virginia farm and raising beef cattle.
“We are light years away from where we would have been if Becky had not come along,” Andrews said in the interview.
Szarzynski said the help works both ways.
“You never stop learning,” she said. “I’m learning from her. That’s farming.”
The program offers improved prescribed grazing implementation; one-on-one support from an experienced grazier’ brainstorming storming conservation and production solutions; increased soil health; and connections with like-minded farmers in the program.
This translates to back-and-forth farm visits, attending conferences and field days, sharing tools and thoughts, finding needed information and creating communities.
Andrews reported that her family would not have known there is such a thing as a soil test if Szarzynski had not told them.
She said she is very impressed with the help Virginia Cooperative Extension offers and grateful for being made aware of the agency. She had never experienced this kind of help.
Szarzynski’s motivation may, in part, be to her dad Glenn Szarzynski, who a few years became her mentor when she made the decision to become a full-time, first-time farmer.