In this Newsletter: 

Request for Proposals

Join us as a speaker and share your knowledge and experience! Speaker Proposals are being accepted for the 22nd annual Virginia Biological Farming Conference which will be held in-person January 22-24, 2022 at The Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center.

Proposals are being accepted for half and full-day Pre-Conference Workshops (Saturday, January 22) and Conference Sessions (Sunday, January 23 and Monday January 24). Please submit this form by September 15, 2021. Questions? Email Lindsay at

Message from the President

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents on my mom’s side, Eunice and Lloyd.  Both of my parents worked full-time so for several summers before I was old enough to work a job, I would stay with Grandma & Grandpa at their house in Roanoke, Virginia.  It was a great experience for a kid raised in the country—we didn’t live in a neighborhood, and my friends were strung far-and-wide around the county so summers were mostly devoid of social time, at home, working on dad’s chore list and eating a lot of peanut butter sandwiches.
Grandma’s house, though, was in what we called a ‘subdivision’ back then.  There were lots of other youngsters around my age living in that neighborhood so we spent the days riding skateboards, playing basketball, climbing trees, swinging on anything we could swing on, you name it.  I didn’t get to see those friends in that neighborhood much the whole rest of the year, and I always dreaded mid-August ‘cause that meant Labor Day was coming, school would start back and I wouldn’t see my friends again until next summer.
I would complain about having to go back to school so soon and Grandma would always give me some variation of “Son, you think the summer went by fast now.  Just wait until you get older—time passes faster the older you get.”   Of course, I didn’t believe that.  I thought she was just pulling my leg…
As usual, Grandma was right.  The older I’ve gotten, especially after having children of my own, time does indeed seem to pass much faster than it used to.  Those summers of the early 1980’s remind me of what the summers feel like now:  before you even get in-the-groove, make all your big plans, line up the teams and build that treehouse, it’s all of a sudden the end of August and summer is gone. 
The difference for me now, however, is that I don’t have that dreaded back-to-school knot in my stomach like I used to.  Now I actually look forward to fall; to cooler weather; to harvesting and preserving produce and meats; to planting cover crops; to solarizing new areas for beds next year; to thinking about new areas for our breeding flocks; to cutting firewood; to making compost tea and wood chips; to enjoying the summer’s bounty.
I hope you all have had a wonderful summer and I wish you an ever better fall.  ‘Cause you know, time goes by faster the older we get.  Grab on tight and make every minute count.

August Gardening Tips

By Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
and the author of  The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast and the new Grow Great Vegetables in Virginia

Ample rain are ending  hot dry “Dog Days of Summer” and I hope all of your gardens are well mulched against weeds and producing abundantly. Now is the time to focus on “summer planting for fall and winter harvest”.

August and early September  is the time to finish transplanting  broccoli, cabbage collards and cauliflower into their well prepared beds for your second cool season garden. You can sow leafy fall brassicas like collards, mustards, arugula, tatsoi  and other Asian greens directly into a rich raised bed under spun polyester row cover to keep insects off. Plant it thickly and then thin on a wet day in late August or early September (2-4 weeks later) or you can space the seedlings out into other beds. Transplant Brassicas at 4 leaves(4-6 weeks)and other greens earlier. Keep them under row cover until they are large and sturdy. Cut back all your celery to encourage a second harvest.  Direct sow carrots, salad greens, beets, and winter radish seeds weekly for a healthy fall harvest. For more info on extending you garden season read our article on Easy Season Extension,

Keep up harvesting vegetables every other day and planting more seeds every week. August is a good time to order garlic and perennial onions for fall planting. If you are new to growing these culinary essentials our 4 page Garlic and Perennial Onion Growing Guide will get you started.

For garden fresh salad all fall and into winter plant plant more lettuce every week in August and more often in September. Soil temp must be below 80F.  If very hot sow in the later afternoon or early evening then cover seed rows with ice, or sow in plastic flat in fridge.  Choose a fast-growing summer crisp lettuce like Sierra, increasingly popular seasonal mixes, appetizing mesclun.
Keep everything weeded and well mulched to suppresses weeds, eliminating competition for nutrients and water. Also keep planting Winter Cover Crops as space becomes available to Increase organic matter and build soil by sowing cover crops in all empty beds not need for fall or early spring crops. Our Cover Cropping for Unpredictable Weather will help you plan.
Enjoy the harvest of beans, beets, watermelon, cantaloupes, carrots, celeriac, celery, chard, corn, cow peas, cucumbers, eggplant, hot peppers, lettuce, okra, onions, peppers, pears, scallions, squash, tomatoes, and zucchini. 

Book Review: Build Your Own Farm Tools: Equipment and Systems for the Small-Scale Farm and Market Garden

By Josh Volk, Storey Publishing, August 2021

Book Review by Pam Dawling

I knew from the start that I would like this book! Who among us hasn’t wrestled with tools that aren’t quite right, that we spent good money on? Handle too short? Wrong angle? Made for very large hands? Who hasn’t wished for a tool that isn’t commercially available yet?

The book is clearly illustrated with accurate line drawings – better than photos because there’s no extraneous stuff. The first chapter, Setting Up a Basic Shop, covers safety, tools, benches, tool use and maintenance. Having safety notes at the beginning is wise. Yes, don’t wear gloves when working near rotating machinery. Clear space around your work area and have good lighting. When needed, use ear protection, goggles, mask, helmet. No farmer wants an injury. We rely on our bodies to get our work done. Josh writes good advice.

The lists of basic tools are helpful, as is the beginner’s guide to driving screws, a task which many of us were not taught at home or school. I encourage everyone to read the introductory chapter. Even if you know it all, you may pick up a good way to explain things to your helpers. Given the other safety precautions, I was surprised we are not warned against spreading linseed oil rags out to air-dry after oiling tool handles. They self-ignite – we burned a building down that way!
The common materials used include wood (SPF, or spruce, pine, fir) and CDX plywood (grades C and D); hot-rolled low-carbon steel, black steel pipe, and polyethylene, PVC and ABS plastic piping (with environmental concerns elucidated).

There are 19 projects, all made and used by the author and farmer friends. All can be built with commonly available tools and materials. There are clear instructions, a description of how the tool is used, and options for design modifications, including how you can apply the design features to other tools you might make. I instantly saw the wisdom of having a three-legged sawhorse for uneven ground – the milking stool principle applies!

The greenhouse projects start with a simple potting bench made from standard size lumber. Make the height to fit the users. The slatted top is 42” x 8’, and you can customize by installing irrigation sprinklers, or hot water spaghetti tubing between the slats for a bottom-heating system, and/or insulation under the slats to prevent drafts from below.

Three homemade hoes are next., followed by a germination chamber made from wire shelving (as used in restaurant kitchens), surrounded by ½” exterior grade insulation board. Josh’s example holds 27 10x20 flats, and fits under their seeding bench. The heating is provided by a metal pan of water with a submersible 500 watt thermostatically-controlled aquarium heater.
..Read the Full Review

Purchase Build Your Own Farm Tools: Equipment and Systems for the Small-Scale Farm and Market Garden here

VABF has partnered with independent bookseller, Stone Soup Books, in Waynesboro, Va. Buy this book, and ANY of the farming books found on their website here, and 1/2 of the net proceeds from your purchase will come back to support VABF! Thanks for your support! Happy Reading!
Purchase Build Your Own Farm Tools Here

Subscribe to the new VABF YouTube Channel! 

Watch webinars, VABF partner series, and Common Ground Soil Stories! We'll be adding more content as we keep growing!


August Policy Updates

By Mark Schonbeck & Francesca Constantino

USDA Requests Pubic Input on Meat and Poultry Processing Infrastructure

USDA has announced that it will invest $500 million in on Meat and Poultry Processing Infrastructure and has requested public comment on how to administer the programs and utilize the funds. We really need to push USDA to direct this funding towards small processors and to administer the program in a way that serves small to midscale family livestock farmers and does not simply perpetuate corporate scale factory farming.

The deadline to submit comments is August 30 – check out the Federal Register notice on this comment period, as well as the NSAC blog on this opportunity.   investmen funding for this and invited public comment on the program and its administration = again tight deadline, August 30. Since this has become a policy priority for VABF, it definitely merits inclusion in our e-newsletter this month.  Francesca – can you flesh this one out and maybe put it at the top of the Policy section of the e-newsletter?
On this same topic, NSAC has posted an action item seeking Congressional co-sponsors for the Strengthening Local Processing Act, which will specifically support the development of smaller-scale, decentralized slaughter facilities so that livestock farmers of any scale anywhere in the US can gain access to this vital link in the value chain from farm to customer.

Seeking Co-Sponsors for the Agriculture Resilience Act of 2021

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is continuing its advocacy endeavors to recruit additional Congressional co-sponsors for the Agriculture Resilience Act of 2021 (ARA), introduced earlier this year into the House by Rep. Chellie Pingree and in the Senate by Senator Martin Heinrich.  NSAC and urges one and all to call their Members of Congress to ask them to become cosponsors. 
While we do not anticipate the ARA becoming law as it is currently stands, it can play a vital role in shaping the 2023 Farm Bill.  Inclusion of its key provisions in the Farm Bill will strengthen its Research, Conservation, and Rural Development Titles to support farmers and rural communities build their resilience to the impacts of climate disruption and to become part of the solution through improved farming and ranching practices that absorb CO2 into living soils and plant biomass, and minimize greenhouse gas emissions.  To learn more about the ARA see this Section by Section summary. 
Here in Virginia, Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) and Gerald Connolly (D-11th) have already joined Rep. Pingree as original cosponsors – so those of you in their districts, call them to say Thank you!  Both of our Senators are strong supporters of agricultural conservation, local food systems, and effective climate action – let’s all call them to urge them to co-sponsor the ARA.  For those of you in districts other than the 7th and 11th, call your Representative.  Note that Don McEachin (4th) in particular, served on the House Committee on the Climate Crisis and is likely to respond to multiple constituent calls in support of this bill.

News from National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Holds its Summer 2021 Meeting by Zoom

On August 2 – 5, NSAC held its summer meetings, which focused on developing strategies for the upcoming 2023 Federal Farm Bill, on which Senate and House Agriculture Committees will begin work later this year.  For four consecutive afternoons, we gathered to identify priorities, discuss strategies, and explore opportunities and challenges in the current political landscape for sustainable agriculture. Two themes running through our meetings were:

  • Dismantling racism and promoting racial equity throughout the sustainable agriculture movement, the USDA, and the nation’s food and agriculture system.
  • Meeting the challenges of climate disruption through direct mitigation and carbon sequestration and through building agricultural and community resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis. 

We also took time to have some fun, connect with one another, and share SARE stories in a retirement celebration for long-time SARE leader Kim Kroll.  Check out the recent blog post on the NSAC summer meeting

National Farmers Market Week links stakeholders with decision makers

Check out this NSAC blog post on the recent National Farmers Market Week , which took place on August 1-7 and provided a platform for vendors, market managers and local food systems organizers to engage with elected officials.  s Platform for Essential Engagement with Elected Officials.

Agricultural Appropriations take a few Steps in the Right Direction

The House Agriculture Appropriations Bill, three Amendments to the House Bill, and the Senate Bill include increased funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, and for conservation, climate mitigation and resilience, and local/regional food systems in other research, conservation, and rural development programs. 

Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)  announced that organic producers and handlers can now apply for funds to assist with the cost of receiving or maintaining organic certification. Applications for the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) are due Nov. 1, 2021.  

OCCSP provides cost-share assistance to producers and handlers of agricultural products for the costs of obtaining or maintaining organic certification under the USDA’s National Organic Program. Eligible producers include any certified producers or handlers who have paid organic certification fees to a USDA-accredited certifying agent during the 2021 and any subsequent program year. Producers can be reimbursed for expenses made between Oct. 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2021 including application fees, inspection costs, fees related to equivalency agreement and arrangement requirements, travel expenses for inspectors, user fees, sales assessments and postage. See the fact sheet here. Find your local USDA Service Center Here. 

Creating Healthy Communities Through Urban Agriculture

Welcome to the first Mid-Atlantic Urban Agriculture Summit! This event launched five years ago and was formerly known as the Virginia Ag Summit. New in 2021, organizers at Virginia Cooperative Extension have extended it to the entire Mid-Atlantic region to facilitate the sharing of even more knowledge and experiences. We invite urban farmers, gardeners, policymakers, government officials, foodies and other interested individuals to three partial days of:

  • Learning about one of agriculture’s fastest-growing sectors

  • Virtual tours of successful urban farms

  • Virtual networking

This year’s topics will include:

  • Urban Agriculture and Food Security

  • Innovations in Urban Ag: Business, Technology, and Policy

  • Urban Community Gardening

Recipe: Summer Countertop Slow Cooker Bolognese

By Anna Wills

Most gardeners know the struggle this time of year to get those fresh veggies off the countertop and into meals before the fruit flies (and this year, ants) find them and carry them off. This variation on bolognese makes use of whatever you have on your countertop along with a pound or two of ground beef and some tomato paste. Traditionally bolognese is prepared for many hours on the stovetop but these hot days and a lack of time to tend a pot makes this slow cooker variation the way to go. If you have the time and would like to sauté your onions and brown your beef before adding to the crockpot you can. But the simplicity of this recipe lets you simply dump all the raw ingredients into the slow cooker in the morning, mix and cook on low all day and enjoy the dish at the end of a long workday.  Adding nutmeg makes the sauce taste less like a marinara and more like a dish that will get your tastebuds ready for the warming flavors of fall. Serve over pasta or gluten-free pasta with a healthy topping of Parmesan cheese and sprinkled with fresh herbs like basil, oregano and thyme.


There is really no need to measure any ingredients since the point of this sauce is to use what you have available.  Just throw it all in!

I used:

Grass-fed ground beef, one package

several cloves of garlic

about 5 small red onions

one or two carrots

Chanterelle mushrooms

about four large tomatoes and a handful of smaller, sweeter cherry tomatoes

one 6 ounce can of tomato paste

nutmeg, salt, pepper, basil, oregano, thyme


Mince the garlic, chop the onion, shred the carrots, slice the chanterelles and dice the tomatoes. Add to the crock pot along with the uncooked ground beef. Add about 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss in any herbs, saving some for garnish.  Mix thoroughly with your hands or a spoon.  Set your slow cooker on low and cook for 6 hours or longer. About 30 minutes before serving (when you are getting ready to prepare your pasta) stir in the can of tomato paste if you’d like.  This will thicken the sauce nicely. Taste and season with more salt or pepper before you pile it high on top of your pasta. Top with Parmesan and a garnish of herbs and enjoy the flavor of a long cooked sauce from the ease of the slow cooker. I didn’t get a good picture of this prepared dish because we gobbled it up before I remembered!

4 the Soil

4 the Soil is a campaign of the VA Soil Health Coalition working to raise awareness about the critical importance of soil and the 4 Core Principles of healthy soil management: 

  1. Keep Soil Covered: It’s the first step in protecting it from erosion, but also buffers soil temperature, slows rainfall runoff, and aids rainfall infiltration.
  2. Minimize Soil Disturbance​: Both physical and chemical. This proactive measure can heal and protect properties of the soil and ultimately enhance the biological component of soil life.
  3. Maximize Living Roots​: Doing this longer throughout the year fuels biological activity, aids nutrient cycling, and contributes to improved soil structure.
  4. Energize with Diversity: ​Use different crop species and integrate livestock where possible  for specific purposes to enhance chemical, physical and/ or biological aspects of the soil. It improves the whole system.

Visit for more information and to Take The Pledge!

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