SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA AGRARIAN COMMONS
Local Agrarian Commons Board
Leasehold Farm: TBA
Cameron D. Terry, Garden Variety Harvests
Kim Kirkbride, New River Land Trust
Eliza Spellman Taylor
Suzanne Pierce, CowanPerry PC, Attorney
The Southwest Virginia Agrarian Commons is organized and shall be operated exclusively for the purpose of holding title to property, collecting income therefrom, and turning the entire amount, less expenses to the AGRARIAN LAND TRUST within the meaning of Section 501(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (the “Code”). Agrarian Land Trust, the parent corporation of Southwest Virginia Agrarian Commons, is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(a) and described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Code.
The Southwest Virginia Agrarian Commons is collaborating with local farms and the New River Land Trust (NRLT) on the creation of a local Agrarian Commons in Southwest Virginia, which will be the first in the state. The Agrarian Trust team is also working to develop collaboration and partnerships with other organizations in the region and the state. Garden Variety Harvests is a founding farm, and Virginia Tech’s Catawba Sustainability Center is an educational center partner.
The New River Land Trust works to conserve farmland, forests, open spaces, and historic places in the New River region. They work with partners, including local governments, on larger land policy and conservation issues. They also educate and assist landowners to conserve their land by voluntarily donating conservation easements on their property. Since 2002, they have helped protect over 55,000 acres of land in the region and over 26 miles of New River frontage.
Garden Variety Harvests was founded by farmer Cameron D. Terry in 2017. The Garden Variety Harvests micro-farm network is currently close to one-third of an acre in total with about 8,000 square feet of gardened bed space. The farm produces a (garden) variety of herbs, greens, and fruit.
Kim Kirkbride of NRLT points to the utility of the Agrarian Commons model in this region: "The greatest threat to Appalachian farmland in this area is the current real estate boom in the New River and Roanoke Valleys. Farmland is only affordable for developers anymore, and so we are losing a considerable amount of good ground to rapid housing development as Blacksburg and Roanoke gentrify. This changes the way of life here permanently. Once our agricultural soils are inverted and cast aside for residential development, we’ve lost them forever,” she writes. The biodiversity, natural beauty of this Appalachian region of Virginia, the ongoing decline of coal and manufacturing jobs, and long history of small and diverse farms given the unique topography and culture of Appalachia also combine to encourage the growth of commons-based land stewardship in the region.
Southwest Virginia is the most rural region of Virginia and the most mountainous. Its mountains have contributed to keeping farms small and perhaps more ecologically-minded as well. Row crops that enable large-scale pesticide/herbicide application are more difficult and less commonly produced given the topography of the region.
Southwest Virginia is one of the most biodiverse regions of the country and home to a wide variety of plant, fish, mussels, and amphibian species. This diversity owes itself to dramatic changes in elevation throughout the region. The New River—the oldest river in the Western Hemisphere and the second oldest river in the world after the Nile—traverses mountains that are more than one billion years old.
Archaeological evidence shows that humans may have begun to inhabit what is now Virginia as early as 22,000 years ago. Before European colonization, three major indigenous groups lived in the region, the Algonquian-speaking peoples, the Nottoway and Meherrin, and the Siouan or Iroquoian-speaking tribes. Today, Virginia has seven federally recognized tribes and several tribes recognized by the state, which passed its own legislation for tribal recognition in 2001. As of 2010, recognized Native American tribes in Virginia include the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Upper Mataponi, Nansemond, Rappahannock, Monacan Indian Nation, Pamunkey, Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), Nottoway of Virginia, and Patowomeck. Only the Pamunkey and Mattaponi have retained reservation lands ceded to them through treaties with English colonists in the 1600s.
Nevertheless, agriculture remains Virginia’s top industry. Today, the state has about 7.8 million acres of farmland held in 42,000 farms, constituting 28 percent of the state’s landscape. The state is home to more than 2 million acres of prime farmland, much of which is in the path of an increasing population and increased development.
More than 334,000 jobs are linked to the state’s agricultural sector, which contributes $70 billion to its economy annually. Virginia's top five farm products are broilers, beef cattle and calves, dairy products, greenhouse and nursery products, and turkeys. With an average farm size of 180 acres, Virginia farmers produce a diverse array of crops. Livestock, however, is the state’s top commodity. Livestock and livestock products rank as the state's largest agricultural revenue, generating two-thirds of the state’s receipts. Broilers, cattle and calves, and turkeys make up the majority of that revenue. Other major farm products include milk, soybeans, greenhouse and nursery products, corn for grain, hay, and wheat.
In terms of crops, greenhouse and nursery products generate 9 percent of the state’s agricultural income. Soybeans follow, providing about 5 percent. Once the king crop, tobacco now generates just 4 percent. Other field crops grown in Virginia are hay, cotton, wheat, peanuts, and barley. Tomatoes and corn for grain are other major crops grown in Virginia. Other important vegetable crops grown in the state are potatoes, snap beans, cucumbers, and sweet corn. Leading fruits grown in Virginia include apples and grapes. With its diversity of agricultural possibilities and the growing demand for fresh, local, organic produce, Virginia is poised to serve as an auspicious state for community-held farmland to take root.
SNAPSHOT OF VIRGINIA AGRICULTURE
The Southwest Virginia Agrarian Commons is working with several local farms and organizations to create options for small-scale, community-stewarded farmland in the region. Despite its growing cities and history of industrialization, agriculture remains the top industry in the state. The region’s large population and high demand for locally-produced and organic food is poised to help sustainable, regenerative agriculture grow in Virginia.
Land Acknowledgement & Commitment
The Agrarian Commons acknowledges that it is located on the ancestral, occupied, and, in many cases, unceded land of Indigenous people. In acknowledging this legacy of genocide and theft, we are in turn committed to supporting Indigenous sovereignty.
Food Insecurity & Hunger
Approximately 1 in 10 Virginia residents are food insecure. 1 in 8 children live in a food insecure household.
Virginia Farmland Facts
Amount of Farmland: 7,800,000 acres (28.5 percent of total land area)
Acres Farmed Organically: 23,453 acres
Total Number of Farms: 42,400
Number of Farm Operators/Producers: 54,000
- Average Age: 58.5
- Beginning farmers: 18,957
- Farmers of color: 2,997
- White farmers: 37,730
- American Indian or Alaska Native farmers: 168
- Hispanic, Latino or Spanish Origin farmers: 845
- Black farmers: 1,693
- Asian farmers: 259
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander farmers: 32
- Female farmers: 25,509
- Male farmers: 37,027
Farmland Loss: 500,000 acres (2007-2017)
Average Farm Real Estate Value: $3,280/acre
Farm Income: 63 percent of Virginia farms earn less than $10,000 a year (2017, NASS)
Top Agricultural Products by Sales: Poultry, eggs, cattle and calves, grains, oilseeds, dry beans, dry peas, cow’s milk, nursery and greenhouse products, flowers, sod
Resources on Virginia Agriculture
- Native Land Map of the Region
- 2018 State Agriculture Overview - Virginia
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, NRCS
- Land Values 2019 Summary, USDA
- American Farmland Trust, Farmland Info Center
- National Young Farmers Coalition Chapters
Farm and Food Reports on Virginia
- Blue Ridge Region (Blue Ridge Region). Crossroads Resource Center. Partner: Heifer Project International. PDF Summary.
- East Chesapeake Bay region (Maryland & Virginia) (7 counties, 2007). Crossroads Resource Center. Partner: Food and Water Watch, East Chesapeake farmers. PDF Summary.
- Martinsville / Henry County region (Virginia & North Carolina) (8 counties, 2011). Crossroads Resource Center. Partner: Harvest Foundation, Virginia Tech Extension, & Local Partners. PDF Summary.
- Rappahannock-Rapidan Region (Virginia, 2015). Crossroads Resource Center. Partner: Rapidan-Rappahannock Regional Commission. Rappahannock-Rapidan Farm & Food Plan. PDF Summary
- Shenandoah Valley (10 counties, 2010). Crossroads Resource Center. Partner: Virginia Cooperative Extension (Harrisonburg). PDF Summary.
- State of Virginia (2007). Crossroads Resource Center. Partner: University of Virginia. PowerPoint presentation. PDF Summary.
State of Virginia Reports
- Virginia Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services Reports
- Virginia Dept. of Agriculture Organic Agriculture Publications
FOUNDING FARMS, RANCHES & AGRICULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS
New River Land Trust
Garden Variety Harvests
Local Agrarian Commons Documents
- Articles of Incorporation
- Lease Template
PARTNERS & ALLIES
Along with our founding farms and supporting partners, the Virginia Agrarian Commons looks forward to collaborating with community land trusts and other organizations in the region.
Catawba Sustainability Center
The Catawba Sustainability Center will provide educational support and training for southwest Virginia Agrarian Commons. Catawba Sustainability Center is a 377-acre farm in the Catawba Valley of southwest Virginia, a partnership between Roanoke County and Virginia Tech to provide resources, training, research, and education for beginning farmers.
Adam Taylor, Director of Catawba Sustainability Center, shares about the farm incubator program at the Center, which supports eight beginning farmers, including two young farmers producing mushrooms in various habitats
EVENTS & OPPORTUNITIES
- CHP Works with Local Conservation Group to Preserve Brush Mountain
- Montgomery County looking to create nature park with Mountain Valley Pipeline funds
- A Watershed Moment for Conservation in the New River Valley, Virginia
- Woman honored for New River protection efforts
- Stretch Of New River Preserved In Grayson County