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A Beginning Farmer and Rancher Community Learning Network in the Greater Richmond Area: Program Development and Initial Evaluation
Maxwell, Charlotte H.
Niewolny, Kim L.
Morgan, Kimberly L.
Archibald, Thomas G.
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The mission of the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition (VBFRC) Program for Greater Richmond is to develop programming that fits the needs of beginning farmers in the area. This project initially focused on Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover and Powhatan residents and contributed to the larger statewide initiative. The developed program reaches more counties in the Greater Richmond area and continues to contribute to the statewide initiative. The initial mission of this project was to introduce the participants to the VBFRC Whole Farm Planning curriculum, conduct a needs assessment and create a plan of action to address those needs. The initial mission was accomplished through two whole farm planning classes and a third meeting where the beginning farmers participated in a needs assessment discussion and created an action plan to meet their needs. Participants were able to voice their opinions on which needs to prioritize and what events they want to hold in the future. The secondary mission will be to develop a learning community with new farmers and established farmers in the area. The secondary mission does not have a set end time as we will work to connect farmers together in this community-learning network. This project resulted in a program for the participants based on their input with the Extension agent serving as an event facilitator. The whole farm planning classes were evaluated through a paper survey and interviews, the needs assessment and action plan were created through discussion. The Social Exchange Theory was selected as the theoretical framework for this program. In order for the community-learning network to work, a beneficial social exchange will need to be present. The results of the surveys, interviews and needs assessment are being used to inform the program and The development of this program and its evaluation helps to strengthen the agricultural community as well as increase programming offered specifically for beginning farmers by the local Virginia Cooperative Extension offices.