Message from the President

Daylight saving time snuck up on me this year.  Ironically, we were enjoying the warm and sunny weather so much that it didn’t occur to me that the time change was close and spring was ready to explode.  Wrapping up winter projects and starting new spring ones has kept us busy for the past few weeks, following the rhythm from the dark winter months.   Now that the time on the clock has shifted and the days are longer and lighter, it will take a few weeks for us to adapt to the new schedule.  Obviously this happens every year, but for some reason this year the time change seemed more prominent.  Maybe it’s because we’ve had a mostly mild spring so far, overall. 
Sometimes I wonder if our animals notice the time change at all.  Not having to worry with a clock or device to tell time, they take their cues from sunlight and day length and seem to just go-with-the-flow.  We run most of our breeding and egg-laying chickens in a day range system, where we open up their pens or coops in the morning and let them out onto pasture or forested paddocks behind protective netting for the day.  At night, we make a round to close up all the pens for the night and once they learn their home roosting area they typically keep a pretty set schedule—back in the pen and on the roost by dusk.  In winter, we can close up pretty early and be in for the night.  Daylight saving time instantly pushes that time back later and by mid-summer on a clear, moon-bright night, we might still be herding a stray hen or coaxing an angry guard goose back in after 9:00 pm.
One difference I have noticed since the time change, however, is that our pigs like to sleep in and now that we are doing chores earlier each day, I often catch them all still in their overnight pile-on when I come around with feed.  I can’t imagine they would complain about the shift in the clock the same way that humans do, and eventually they adjust as well.  They are pigs, after all, so there ain’t much that will keep them away from feed for long. 
I’m gonna cut it short and get outside.  Happy equinox!
Brent Wills

March 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

Finish transplanting raspberries and blackberries in March if you didn’t do this task in the fall. Put any compost you can spare on your asparagus, strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, and raspberry beds for a sweet reward in May and June.  All of these acid loving berries thrive with a heavy sawdust, shredded leaves or woodchips mulch so top off your beds.

In the greenhouse or under lights indoors continue to sow lettuce, scallions, and broccoli.  Start some more tomatoes, peppers and eggplants  by late March, to put out in 4 to 6 weeks .  Outside you can continue  sowing  successions of radishes, spinach, turnips, carrots  and beets directly in the garden and cover with spun polyester row cover.  Presoak beets 1-2 hours before sowing 1/2" deep, tamp soil when covered.  When forsythia blooms, sow pre-sprouted peas, only cover 1/2"-3/4" deep.  To support dwarf peas you can sow 1 oat grain per 5 peas.

Plant your potatoes as soon as possible after St. Patrick’s Day by green chitting. The practice of pre-sprouting seed potatoes before planting encourages early growth. It is widely used abroad, but less known to Americans. Chitting is simple. Spread the seed tubers in boxes or flats one layer deep with the seed end up. Look closely at a seed potato and you will notice one end was attached to the plant. The other end has more eyes from which sprouts emerge. The end with the eye cluster is called the seed end. Place your flats in a warm area (70 degrees) where light is bright but indirect. The warm air stimulates the development of strong sprouts from the bud eye clusters, which, in the presence of light, remain stubby and are not so easily broken off.  Allow 1 to 2 weeks for green chitting before planting potatoes in the garden.

As soon as your potatoes are in, it’s time to start the main crop of tomatoes indoors.  Tropic and Brandywine OTV are great tomatoes for disease resistant, blemish free large fruits placing high in our taste test each summer. Alston Everlasting, a two bite saladette, is a new farm favorite for taste, productivity and keeping quality after harvest. Compost and prepare beds for outdoor planting that will begin in earnest next month.

Start your own tropical  garden bed with plants grown and shipped to you from Nisani Farm in southside Virginia which  is owned and operated by three generations of women of color. Their Belizean roots flavor the feel of the farm in such a way that you find yourself in the tropics without having to leave Southside Virginia. In this forested 50-acre farmstead there is everything from turmeric and ginger to papayas and moringa trees, from medicinal herbs and mushrooms to cut flowers and purple vegetables, from rain garden plants and orchards to bitter melons and leafy greens, and all grown with Certified Naturally Grown practices.You can pre-order spring-shipped Turmeric plants and rhizomes and Ginger plants grown by the women of Nisani Farm online at www. Southern

Book Review: Greenhorns: The Next Generation of American Farmers 
edited by Zoë Ida Bradbury, Severine von Tscharner Fleming and Paula Manalo, Storey Publishers, 2012. 250 pages 
Book Review by Pam Dawling

This book isn’t new but deserves much more attention. It’s a collection of short pieces by farmers about things they learned as new farmers that they want to pass on, to save newbies (greenhorns) making those mistakes. Because it is personal anecdotes, this is easy to read, despite the seriousness. Greenhorns presents thought-provoking material, so you can usefully read one piece in a spare minute, and then think about it while you do a routine task. It’s a good companion volume to the more technical books on starting to farm.

There are fifty different short pieces, clustered into topics such as Money, Land, Body/Heart/Soul, Purpose, Beasts, Nuts & Bolts, Ninja Tactics, Old Neighbors, New Community. The resource section is a tad old, but still contains good stuff.

This book is written for the people who are willing to “jump high hurdles and work long hours to build a solid business” around the love of farming. Severine quotes Thomas Edison “Opportunity is missed by many because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Some of the messages are encouraging: you will get stronger with practice using a hoe and working outdoors all day, and you can learn diligence, courage and resilience. Don’t expect to be perfect from day one! Especially if you are making the big transition from an urban, less physically-active lifestyle. On small budgets of money and time, it is important to take care of your health, including sanity.

You do not need to struggle alone! Look for opportunities such as incubator farms, where experienced farmers are nearby as mentors, and you rent land, greenhouse space and some equipment. “I laugh every time I stop with a hoe in my hand to text the other farmers to see if a tractor is free”, says Meg Runyan. Beginner farmer programs are another source of support.

Some of the stories act as reality checks, including this from Jeff Fisher: “Cut, cracked, and bleeding fingers are just the start of the physical hardships of farming.” “At the end of each day I was left with aches, pains, cuts, cracks, blisters, infections, stings and sprains.” Not all of those, every day, I want to add! Farming is a very physical lifestyle, so invest in maintaining and strengthening your body for a long career.

“I feel so alone sometimes. It’s overwhelming to have every decision weigh on me. . . Why did I choose to farm alone? I just wish I had some company. Frustrated and full of self-pity, I finish the lettuce in a huff. . . As I work, my tantrum begins to subside.”

You need a sturdy sense of your own worth....Read the Full Review

Buy Greenhorns: The Next Generation of American Farmers 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 Greenhorns: The Next Generation of American Farmers

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Photo Credit: Glade Road Growing

Lean Farming on the Ground

March 25, 2021 12:00-1:00 EDT

Webinar Description: 
Lean farming is a practical and systems-based approach to create a more sustainable farming operation. It draws on concepts from business to help reduce waste, increase profits, and make farms more environmentally and economically sustainable. In this webinar you will hear from Jason Pall, co-owner and operator of Glade Road Growing in Blacksburg, Virginia who will share how Glade Road Growing has integrated lean farming concepts into their farm operations and business. 

Zoom Registration (Free)

Please register:

Donations Welcome

This program is free of charge, but we welcome donations in support of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming . Donate Here.

Recommended Lean Farming Books

Join Us Next Tuesday!


Breaking the Disease Triangle: An Integrated Approach to Disease Management

March 30, 2021 12:00-1:30 ET

Webinar Description: Perhaps the most fundamental representation of plant disease occurrence is the disease triangle.  In most introduction to plant pathology courses, this is introduced within the first week and then quickly forgotten soon afterward.  However, knowing how to manipulate hosts, environments, and pathogens is at the base of any integrated disease management program.  Dr. Steve Rideout, Professor of Plant Pathology within at Virginia Tech, will discuss an array of tactics available to growers to address and suppress some of the most problematic vegetable diseases in the Region.

Zoom Registration (Free)

March Policy Updates
By Mark Schonbeck

American Rescue Plan 
Help for Farmers of Color, Local Food Systems, and Food-insecure Families

The $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill recently signed into law by President Biden takes substantial and historic steps toward relieving poverty and hunger in the US, as well as addressing racial equity in the food and agriculture system.  Three key aspects include:

  • Debt relief for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other minority farmers. The package integrated many of the provisions of the Warnock Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act summarized in the February e-newsletter.  National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) posted a blog on this historic support for farmers of color.
  • Food and Farm Systems Infrastructure Funding, including “grants and loans to small or midsized food processors or distributors, seafood processing facilities and processing vessels, farmers markets, producers, or other organizations to respond to coronavirus, including for measures to protect workers against COVID–19.”
  • Additional Food Box funding to support “the purchase and distribution of food and agricultural products, including seafood, fresh produce, dairy and meat products to individuals in need.

Regarding the infrastructure and food box funding, the USDA has opened comment periods for public input on how these funds are administered and delivered.  While the listening sessions have already taken place, the USDA is accepting written public input until March 30. To make comments on these programs, see USDA questions and directions for written input on the Food and Farm Systems Infrastructure and the Additional Food Box funding.

Conservation Stewardship Program remains Open for Signup

Closing date for 2021 season in Virginia is April 30

Would you like to improve the resilience and environmental impact of your farming operation?  Are you seeking to improve soil health, crop rotations, or grazing practices, or want to develop a comprehensive whole farm conservation plan and need a financial hand-up to do so? The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) may be for you. Organic growers can apply to a separate funding pool for CSP funding.  See the NSAC Farmers Guide to CSP, updated in November, 2020 for in-depth information about this program.

To submit your initial application (a simple three-page form) for a CSP contract to begin in the 2021 season visit the NRCS Virginia website or contact your local NRCS field office.

Conservation Reserve Program
Open for Signup through the 2021 Season

Introduced by Senators Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI and Ag Committee Chair), this new legislation would provide $5 billion in direct relief to Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other farmers of color to help them recover from the impacts of the pandemic.  The legislation is also designed to address long-standing racial inequities in the US agricultural system, and its provisions were included in the House pandemic relief package.  Click here for more on this bill. 

Conservation Stewardship Program remains Open for Signup
Closing date for 2021 season in Virginia is April 30

Would you like to improve the resilience and environmental impact of your farming operation?  Are you seeking to improve soil health, crop rotations, or grazing practices, or want to develop a comprehensive whole farm conservation plan and need a financial hand-up to do so? The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) may be for you. Organic growers can apply to a separate funding pool for CSP funding.  See the NSAC Farmers Guide to CSP, updated in November, 2020 for in-depth information about this program.
To submit your initial application (a simple three-page form) for a CSP contract to begin in the 2021 season visit the NRCS Virginia website or contact your local NRCS field office.

Conservation Reserve Program
Open for Signup through the 2021 Season

Do you have some highly erodible or otherwise ecologically fragile land that you would like to take out of production and return to native vegetation or other conservation plantings – but cannot quite afford to do so?  The USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pays farmers and landowners annually for 10 – 15 years to set aside land in grassland or forest cover.  Doing so can help producers retain soil, protect water quality, sequester carbon, and improve the overall resilience of their farming or ranching system.  One CRP sub-program, the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP) allows you to take part of a field out of production, for example to perennialize the steepest and most erodible part of the field, or to install a riparian buffer to protect a nearby stream.

Seeking to expand acreage enrollment in the CRP (which hit a low point in 2020), the USDA has removed the Feb 12 deadline for 2021 and will continue to accept CRP applications throughout the year. Learn more about this valuable program at a recent NSAC CRP blog post.

Farmers’ Guide to the Value-Added Producer Grants Program

Recently the USDA announced no less than $76 million in funding for the Value Added Producer Grants Program, with ten percent of funding set aside for beginning, veteran, BIPOC, and other historically underserved producers.  NSAC has just released its new and updated Farmers’ Guide to VAPG.  Studies by the USDA Economic Research Service confirmed that this program can play a critical role in helping producers get new value-added enterprises off to a successful start – so check it out!

Other National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) News

  • The Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP) has opened grant applications for projects to help farmers and small food businesses improve food safety and meet requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Community-based and non-governmental organizations are encouraged to apply. Deadline for applications is April 1.
  • A new, bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2021 has recently been introduced to expand USDA Farm to School Grant mandatory funding to $15 million per year and to design the program to help communities and school systems “build back” more equitably in the wake of the pandemic by focusing on racially diverse and high-need student populations and engaging beginning, veteran, and historically underserf
  • NSAC has announced its campaign priorities for USDA policy and program funding for 2021. Climate change in agriculture, covid-19 pandemic response, and increased funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program head the list.
  • Energy and momentum to address the climate crisis is building under the Biden-Harris Administration, with growing support in the agricultural sector and on Capitol Hill for engaging farmers as part of the solution. A lot of the attention is focused on “carbon markets” that purport to pay farmers for sequestering carbon through cover crops, reduced tillage, and other soil-restoring practices.  However, NSAC advocates a more holistic approach including strengthening the Conservation Stewardship Program and other USDA conservation and research programs.
  • The USDA has issued a weak rule regarding “undue preferences” in contract livestock and poultry agriculture, which NSAC hopes can be replaced with a stronger rule in the near future. 

Share your farm and food jokes! 

VABF would like to collect and share your farm and food jokes, riddles and humor. Email farm and food jokes to 

Thanks to Mark Jones from Sharondale Farm for this month's jokes!

Three moles were tunneling through the garden on a fine spring day.  The first one pops up, sniffs around and says,”It smells like honey.”  The second mole pops up and inhales and says,”It smells sweet like sugar.”  The third mole pops up, coughs and says,” All I smell is molasses.”

Why did the farmer win an award?
Because she was outstanding in her field.

Farming isn’t for everyone; butt hay, it's in my jeans.

What did the coach say to the cows?

 “Now get out there and give me 2%!”

What do you call a cow in your backyard? 

A lawn-mower.

Why do cows have bells? 

Because their horns don’t work.

Now, that’s udderly ridiculous!

Enjoy and we look forward to hearing your jokes, riddles, and humor!

Spring Forward Asparagus Soup

By Anna Wills

Here’s a beautiful and healthful soup that is so packed with nutrition that it can be a nice, light supper on its own on a spring evening. Use spring’s fresh asparagus, the first green onion tops or similar wild edibles to make this seasonal soup reflective of what you have growing nearby. If your internal clock doesn’t match the Daylight Saving Time clock you may find yourself only beginning to prepare dinner when the sun goes down. This soup can be on the table in 30 minutes. Make a double batch for lunch the next day!

I highlighted two local value-added products in this month’s recipe. The apple cider vinegar came from Two Dudes Foods based in Roanoke. The guys at Two Dudes Foods take apples that are leftover after farmer’s markets’ sales and turn them into delicious apple cider vinegar, dried apples and fruit leathers. VABF member farm Goose Creek Gardens made the lovely cultured cream from extra milk that may have gone to waste. I love that both the cream and the vinegar came from a desire to use every bit of the local bounty lovingly harvested by local farmers.

Spring Forward Asparagus Soup


two or so bunches asparagus, with 6-8 stalks set aside for garnish

2 TBSP coconut or olive oil

one small to medium diced onion

one bunch green onions, garlic scapes or similar

4 cups chicken broth

2 TBSP fresh grated ginger

 3-4 TBSP apple cider vinegar

1 cup cultured cream, plant or animal milk

roasted pepitas

salt and pepper


Snap the asparagus and compost the woody stems. Roughly chop the stalks and tops, reserving 6-8 stalks for garnish. Add the olive oil to a heated pan or soup pot. Saute the onion for about 5 minutes, then add the green onions and the fresh ginger and stir to combine. Cook for a few minutes more, then add the chicken broth. While bringing to a boil add the chopped asparagus. Boil for about one minute then reduce the heat and simmer, covered for about 5 minutes to soften the asparagus.

Remove from the heat and stir in the apple cider vinegar, stir.  Add and stir in the milk or cream. Let cool for about 5 minutes while preparing your blender or immersion blender.

In smaller batches, blend until smooth. If you are using a blender be sure to hold the lid on with a dish towel. Blending warm liquid can sometimes force the lid to pop off from rising steam and heat. If using an immersion blender take care not to splash hot liquid onto yourself.

After blending return the soup to a soup pot and keep warm. Season with salt and pepper.  Taste first though, as the ginger may add enough peppery flavor on its own.

Take the reserved asparagus spears and cut into pretty slices on the diagonal. Saute over medium heat in a bit of oil and set aside with the roasted pumpkin seeds.

Ladle the soup into pretty bowls and sprinkle the top with the asparagus spears and pepitas.

Farmer John: Collard greens are local, durable, tasty and very unafraid of weather some avoid

By John Wilson
Posted on February 19, 2021 by the Princess Anne Independent News

How long can you stand still outside, in the winter, even with winter clothes on, even at the peak of health? Not long, right? And why would you want to? 

I know a plant that does love the cold. We should promote it, celebrate it, grow it and eat it. 

I am talking about collards, one of the under-appreciated vegetables in our diet. It is even despised by some. Can you imagine that? It is easy to grow, easy to cook and one of the most nutritious veggies around. 

And it will just stand out there in cold, rainy weather, take a frost and taste better – and even a freeze, up to a point, all the while staying alive and vibrant. 

Here is my fix for countering the refrain of “but it tastes bad.” It is easy to cook, doesn’t take long and is a little sweet after first frost. Then it stays a little sweet all winter. 

I know recipes vary in the South, but, at its simplest, all you have to do is cut the stems at 1/2 inch, then cut the leaves to a bite-size piece, put it all into a steamer basket and cook for five to 10 minutes. This sufficiently softens it without turning it into mush, which makes it lose some of its nutrition and color.

Don’t forget to drink or use as stock the “pot liquor.”

Next, you can simply drizzle your favorite salad dressing on it and eat. 

Don’t put too much dressing on though or you lose some of the original sweet nutty flavor. You can also drizzle olive oil and tamari on it for variety. For a little extra pizzazz, you can sauté onions and garlic in a separate pan. Once browned just right, add some tamari and balsamic vinegar to the onions. You then mix the onions into the previously steamed collards. It’s awesome, delicious and nutritious. 
Continue Reading

The Appalachian Harvest Herb Hub is seeking farmers to supply herbs to national and international buyers!

Develop a new source of income by growing herbs for a global market, right here at home in Appalachia! Don't miss out on diversifying your farm income, grow for the Herb Hub this year!

See 2021 demand list and contact information HERE.

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