In this Newsletter: 

Save the Conference Date!

Happy National Soil Health Day!

It’s National Soil Health Day and we are celebrating by launching the 4 The Soil Awareness Initiative. The campaign aims to educate and raise awareness about the importance of soil health, as well as to share what VABF and partners across Virginia and the country are doing to advance soil health.

Take the pledge at and share how you are “4 The Soil!"

Message from the President

As things are heating up and summer is now upon us, I wanted to reflect on a few things that are important to me, specifically regarding the weekend of June 19 & 20, 2021.

First, WOW!  What a weekend!  

June 19th was just last week designated as a federal holiday meant to celebrate the unofficial end of the enslavement of Black Americans and to reflect upon how we move forward as a nation.  It seems odd that it would take until 2021 to have an “official” recognition of that kind of historical event, but better late than never I say, and we all know the wheels of government move slowly…

 Second, June 19, 1994, is the day I lost my father to cancer.  I had not lived with him for some time prior to his passing, but in his last few years I was able to connect with him in ways that I had not previously.  I was becoming a man, after all, and my perspective on life was changing as I gained experience and made mistakes, of which I made more than my share.  Maybe I just assume that everyone is like me and remembers dates like that forever, but that day every year makes me take time to think about my Papa, what his life was and how he would react to things that I now have to address as both a father and as a member of society in general.

Segue to Sunday, June 20th: Father’s Day!  Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there—and those of you who are in positions to take on that responsibility for a child.  There is nothing a man can do to make himself more of a man than to be a good father, in my opinion, and I was incredibly fortunate to have several men in my life that showed me how they did it.  The most important one was the man who raised me, who is not my biological father, the man I mention above.  Even though he has no blood relation to me at all, he took me in 45 years ago, made me his son and showed me all the love and support that a father can offer.  He will forever be my dad.  Happy Father’s Day, dad.

Sunday, June 20th, was also the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.  While the solstice is normally celebrated as the first day of summer, some cultures have traditionally viewed it as midsummer, the pivot point in the year’s growing season.  Either way, the solstice for me is a way to mark time passing in different terms than our normal calendar, urging us to think of ourselves and our surroundings as part of a larger community, the ecological whole.  For our family, this usually coincides with our annual trip to the beach, so we get to do some extra celebrating for solstice with kite flying, swimming, sun-kissed shoulders and sand-covered everything.

Here’s to Juneteenth, Father’s Day AND the solstice!  


VABF awarded 2021-2022 VBFRC Coalition Mini-grant Project

Beginning Farmer Track at the 22nd Annual Virginia Biological Farming Conference


Project Description: The Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF) is offering a Beginning Farmer Track at the 22nd annual Virginia Biological Farming Conference, January 22-24, 2022 at The Hotel Roanoke in Roanoke, Virginia. The Beginning Farmer Track will directly support startup farmers, re-strategizing farmers, and establishing farmers. Through existing partnerships and promotion to VABF’s vast Virginia farmer network, they aim to provide training and education to beginning farmers in sustainable farming practices and whole farm planning at the 22nd annual Conference. 

Lindsay Newsome,

The Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition is a state-wide and coalition-based Extension program, housed in Virginia Tech’s Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education. Funding was sponsored by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Award #2020-49400-32326. For more information about the program, contact Katie Trozzo, Program Coordinator, at or 540-231-4582. For other questions, contact Kim Niewolny, Program Director, at

June 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

In mid - June mulch tomatoes, peppers, okra, squash, cucumbers and asparagus to control weeds and retain moisture if it hasn't already been done.

Harvest onions on a dry day after half the tops have fallen over. For better storage harvest garlic when the 6th leaf down on 50% of the plants is brown. Hang onions and garlic to air cure for 2 weeks before trimming and storing.
Continue to sow weekly successions of  beans, corn, cucumbers, and summer squash. Begin sowing very heat resistant lettuces like Jericho, Anuenue, Sierra, and Slo-bolt every 7 days under  light weight row cover or shade cloth. Transplant  seedlings after 3 or 4 weeks to a spot with afternoon shade on an overcast day. For a steady supply and to help avoid gluts read our blog post on Summer Succession Pantings.
 Hand pick or use BT to control Colorado Potato Beetles as soon as the first larvae are spotted on early potatoes and again every 7-10 days. Mid June plant and mulch Fall potatoes while your onions and garlic are curing.
Finish planting and hill up peanuts at 12" tall and mulch before they peg. Transplant any remaining leek seedlings.

In the last week of June begin to sow Brassicas for Fall (brocccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, savoys) 2 or 3 sowings a week apart under spun polyester row cover.  Prepare beds and be ready to transplant Brassicas in July or August when they have 4 leaves (4-6 weeks) and other mustard greens even earlier. Keep them under row cover until plants are large and sturdy. SESE’s own Ken Bezilla offers great tips in his Fall & Winter Gardening Guide.

If you have any extra time weed and mulch any crops that need some more.

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!


Book Review: Pawpaws: The Complete Growing and Marketing Guide 

By Blake Cothron, New Society Publishers, 2021

Book Review by Pam Dawling

“Blake Cothron is an authority on pawpaws, and provides a clear, detailed guide for commercial success in growing this “oddly appealing species” (his own words). The supply of this exotic, trending, easy-to-grow fruit has not yet met the demand. Blake shares the wealth of his knowledge, including challenges, and when he doesn’t know, he says so (and it’s probable that others don’t know either.)”
This is the advance praise I wrote for Pawpaws, now inside the front cover. Last fall I reviewed Michael Judd’s For the Love of Pawpaws, a permaculturist’s take on growing pawpaws among diversified crops. Blake’s book, while mainly intended for small-scale organic commercial growers, is equally useful for the backyard enthusiast. Blake ensures you have the information you need to choose what to grow, where to buy it, how to plant it, keep it thriving, prune and harvest. Depending on your scale, you can try the nine exquisite recipes here, or sell gourmet pawpaws online, or make value-added products such as craft brews, jams, and baked goods.

Blake and his wife Rachel Cothron, own Peaceful Heritage Nursery, a 4-acre USDA Certified Organic research farm, orchard, and edible plant nursery, near Louisville, Kentucky, the perfect climate for pawpaws.

America's almost forgotten native fruit looks tropical and has an exotic appeal, but is an easy to grow temperate climate tree, and very cold hardy (US Winter hardiness zone 5, -20˚F/-29˚C). It is ripe for 4-6 weeks in late August-September. Although mostly grown in the South-east and Mid-Atlantic, pawpaws will grow in portions of 26 US states. Avoid confusion with the tropical papaya, which is sometimes also called pawpaw. The North American pawpaw is Asimina triloba.

The book is studded with cultural gems such as that you can sometimes locate the site of an old native American village by the clusters of pawpaws still growing there.

There are some false myths about pawpaws, including the idea that they are secretly tropical and related to bananas, papaya and mango, They are not. The second myth is that they grow best in shade. Also not true! They can grow in shade, but will not produce good fruit unless in full sun. A third myth is that they are ripe when blackened by frost. Oh no! They are usually ripe weeks before frost. Frost is not a benefit, but a cause of damage! (This myth is not true of persimmons either.) Another myth is that the flowers smell really bad. It’s just not true. Lastly, a myth that would be nice if true: pawpaws are not immune to all diseases and pests. Certainly they don’t suffer from as many health challenges as apples or peaches, but there are pawpaw troubles as Blake explains. All these stories show how important it is to have a trustworthy guidebook....
Read the Full Review

Buy Pawpaws: The Complete Growing and Marketing Guide 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 Pawpaws: The Complete Growing and Marketing Guide

June Policy Updates

By Mark Schonbeck 

Take Action
ARA Co-sponsorship Drive Continues

Our nationwide campaign to recruit Congressional co-sponsors for the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA), introduced earlier this spring by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) continues unabated.  The ARA is designed to help farmers weather the storms and droughts of climate change, and to help make US agriculture climate-beneficial by 2040.  Call your Representative and our two Senators and ask them to co-sponsor the ARA.  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!

CLEAR30 Goes Nationwide
Signup for 2021 is open now through August 6

Do you have a continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) or Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) that includes measures to protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed or any other water resources in your locale?  If your contract expires this coming September and you would like to continue to protect water quality, the USDA has opened an opportunity for you to enroll in a 30-year contract through the Clean Lakes, Estuaries, And Rivers initiative (CLEAR30).  Previously offered only in the Great Lakes region and the Chesapeake Bay watershed, CLEAR30 is now available nationwide. Learn more about CLEAR30 and how to apply. 
Other Funding Opportunities

The USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) General Signup for 2021 has been extended through July 23 and includes some improvements to the program adopted by the Farm Services Agency this year.  In addition the CRP Grasslands program will be open for signup on July 12 through August 20.  The Grasslands pays a minimum of $15 per acre-year to conserve grasslands including pasture and range, maintaining them as grazing lands.  Click here for more information on these CRP signups.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced $15 million in funding available for Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG).  The 2021 CIG program will prioritize proposals that explore climate-smart water management, soil health for climate mitigation and resilience, nutrient management to protect sensitive watersheds, grazing lands conservation, and ways to increase adoption of conservation systems and practices. Application deadline is July 19.
The USDA has announced $15 million in funding available for the Regional Food Systems Partnership (RFSP) program, which was established in the 2018 Farm Bill as part of the Local Agriculture Markets Program (LAMP).  Covid relief legislation added $10 million to the $5 million mandated by the Farm Bill, making for a larger program that can fund more products in 2021.  Click here to learn more including how to apply. Application deadline is July 6. 

President’s 2022 Budget Increases Funding for Agriculture, Conservation, and Climate Mitigation and Adaptation

When President Biden released his administration’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) noted some significant steps in the right direction, beginning with a 16% increase in total USDA funding, including $300 million for climate and conservation programs, on-farm renewable energy production, and a new Civilian Climate Corps.  Research fares especially well, with both SARE and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) funded at their full authorized amounts of $60 million and $700 million, respectively.

Other News from National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

VABF joined 450 other organizations in signing a letter to Congress asking for a $200 billion investment under the America Jobs Plan in making US agriculture both climate friendly and climate resilient.  This investment would fund many of the initiatives and programs mandated by the bicameral Agriculture Resilience Act (H.R. 2803 and S. 1337) and Climate Stewardship Act (H.R 2534 introduced by Virginia’s own Representative Abigail Spanberger, and S. 1072) to help farmers and ranchers adopt mitigation and resilience practices, market products through resilient local and regional supply chains, and generate on-farm low-carbon renewable energy. This investment would greatly expand USDA conservation and research programs with an emphasis on climate solutions through soil health and other sustainable agriculture practices.
In a virtual briefing on May 6, Members of Congress and their staff heard from four farmers who have utilized Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) funding to improve their soils with cover cropping and grazing practices, research and demonstrate improved berry production, and provide vital education and outreach to minority and limited resource farmers.  Co-sponsored by NSAC and SARE, this event aimed to build support for full funding of the SARE program at its authorized amount of $60 million per year, as requested in the Biden Administration’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022.

Tidewater Food Alliance in Virginia

Tidewater Food Alliance is a soon-to-be nonprofit Food Policy Council that will cover all of Tidewater Region in Virginia. TFA mets every other 3rd Wednesday of the Month via zoom to discuss and connect food systems proponents. Our mission is to create a resilient, just, and sustainable community food system in the Tidewater Region of Virginia. We envision equitable access to fresh, nourishing, and culturally appropriate food choices through the collective action of building local food economies rooted in both justice and sustainability. If you are looking for more information please head to our website at

Recipe: Beet and Fennel Salad

By Great Day Gardens

1 bunch beets 
1/2 c sunflower seeds
1 t cumin seed
1/2 t salt
1/2 t chili powder
1 bulb fennel
big pile of lettuce leaves
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
goat cheese
2 hard boiled eggs

1. Cut the tops and roots off the beets and boil until tender when pierced with a fork, 
2. Mix together sunflower and cumin seeds, salt and chili powder with a little bit of oil so the mixture begins to clump together. Toast in a skillet over medium until you can begin to smell the sunflower seeds browning.
3. Plate your salad! ripped lettuce leaves on the bottom, Sliced fennel bulb and sliced beets in the middle, topped with clumps of goat cheese and hard boiled egg halves and toasted seeds. Drizzle on oil and vinegar to your liking and enjoy.

Protecting Organic Farmers from Pesticides

The Organic Center is working with a team of organic farmers, researchers, and industry members to help protect organic farmers and companies from the impacts of inadvertent pesticide contamination and would love your participation!
They are gathering experiences and perspectives of the organic community through a national survey. *All answers will be kept confidential.* You can access the survey through this secure website:
The survey is voluntary and confidential. You can skip any question you prefer not to answer. At no time will information about individual operations be released to the public. They’ll be using your responses to develop a research and communication program to protect certified organic operators such as yourself from the costly impacts of inadvertent contamination events.
You can learn more about the project here: . If you have any questions reach out to Jessica Shade at the Organic Center: 

Farm Service Agency Now Accepting Nominations for County Committee Members

RICHMOND, VA, June 17, 2021 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) began accepting nominations for county committee members on June 15. Elections will occur in certain Local Administrative Areas (LAA) for these members who make important decisions about how federal farm programs are administered locally. All nomination forms for the 2021 election must be postmarked or received in the local FSA office by Aug. 2, 2021.

“We need enthusiastic, diverse leaders to serve other agricultural producers locally on FSA County Committees,” said R. Kevin Bohon, Acting State Executive Director for FSA in Virginia. “Now’s your time to step up and truly make an impact on how federal programs are administered at the local level to reach all producers fairly and equitably.”

Kevin Bohon said agricultural producers who participate or cooperate in a USDA program, and reside in the LAA that is up for election this year, may be nominated for candidacy for the county committee. A cooperating producer is someone who has provided information about their farming or ranching operation to FSA, even if they have not applied or received program benefits. Individuals may nominate themselves or others and qualifying organizations may also nominate candidates. USDA encourages minority producers, women and beginning farmers or ranchers to nominate, vote, and hold office. Continue Reading

Maple/Tree Syrup Production in Virginia

Guinevere Unterbrink is a student at Virginia Tech working on a  research project with Dr. Hammett regarding maple/tree syrup production in Virginia. She is trying to locate all the producers of tree syrup in Virginia, no matter the size or scale of their production (everyone counts, from hobbyists to farms).  The goal is to start a syrup producers association to help producers find assistance, equipment, and if needed, markets for syrup. If you are willing to provide contact information, we will be in contact with more information once the association is created later this year. For right now, we just need to know who you are and where you are located. If interested, send the following info to 




Phone number: 

Email address: 

Any assistance you may need: 

Do you want to get equipment? 

Do you need tapping advice?

Do you need bottling or marketing information? 

What other information do you need?


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