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Lieutenant governor engages farm women at annual leadership conference

Lieutenant governor engages farm women at annual leadership conference

HARRISONBURG—A keynote speech became a lively agricultural advocacy forum at the annual Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Women’s Leadership Conference in Harrisonburg on Aug. 27.

Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears discussed the status of Virginia agriculture and forestry, and then took the opportunity to learn from experts in the room—hundreds of Virginia Farm Bureau women of all ages.

Citing a $165 billion state budget and a net increase of $17 million in the general fund, Sears shared an overview of recent agricultural investments, which include $3.2 million to reestablish the New Kent Nursery; $2.9 million to increase the Agriculture & Forestry Industries Development Fund; $2 million for Virginia Fresh Match food program; $1.4 million for cannabis food product regulation; $1 million to establish the Forest Sustainability Fund; almost $1 million to establish the Virginia Spirits Promotion Fund; and $1 million in American Rescue Plan funding to support operations of Virginia 4-H centers.

Farmers’ participation in the legislative process is crucial, she said.

“Legislators will believe you faster than they believe each other,” Sears continued. “You’re the experts showing us how to get it done. We can’t come up with all the answers. That’s why we need to hear from you.”

In an impromptu forum, she asked the farm women to share what’s on their minds. They discussed animal husbandry laws, access to rural healthcare, the shortage of large animal veterinarians and funding for agricultural best management practices.

Orange County Farm Bureau Women's Leadership Program co-chair and Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom ambassador Lexie Chambers, who raises cattle and crops with her husband, asked about agriculture education.

“Resources are definitely needed in more places in the state, and my own county specifically, to help grow these programs and chapters,” she said. “Agriculture is our No. 1 industry, and youth are the future of Virginia agriculture. How can we get students more interested?”

Sears asked Chambers what she thinks can be done to promote agricultural education. Chambers said streamlining the process to get new educators certified is a good start.

“That way those with real-world experience are the ones teaching students,” she said. “Ag education is very hands-on and allows students to leave high school and get a job, or go to college and further their education to become vets or nurses in the industry.”

She also suggested expanding teacher contracts, and more state-funded grants for class projects.

“What you have done is just advocated for your position,” Sears said. “When your senator or delegate looks for people who can talk about the issues—because you’re being affected—you’re the one we need to hear.”

Media: Contact Zach Jacobs, VFBF governmental relations, at 804-290-1220 or Julianne Condrey, Office of the Lieutenant Governor, at 804-663-7764.