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UMES Extension restarts specialty farm educational bus tours

PRINCESS ANNE — UMES Extension’s Farm Bus Tour will be back on the road August 31 and September 1 for a visit to Eastern and Central Virginia, including a stop at Virginia State University College of Agriculture’s annual field day.

The tour, highlighting farms with sustainable and innovative agricultural practices, is returning after a four-year hiatus.

“Despite the many challenges farmers are facing today, there remain strategies and alternative methods for increasing farm profits,” said Berran Rogers, coordinator of UMES Extension’s Small Farm Program and organizer for the event. “Stops along the tour will introduce unique marketing approaches aimed at helping farmers work directly with the customer and leaving the middleman out-improving the bottom line.”

A sample of the stops lined up for the tour, Rogers said, include Virginia’s Bees Knees Farm & Creamery in West Point, Riverside Produce Farm and Muscadines in King William and Slade Farms in Surry.

Recipient of the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s 2021 Small Farm Outreach Program Volunteer of the Year, Bees Knees Farm & Creamery has been operating for five years and offers diversified sustainable meat (pork, chicken, turkey and goat), along with cheese and goat milk from the 20-acre farm. Tour participants can gain information on its diversified marketing strategy, including on-farm sales, farmers markets, online sales with drop-off points, food hubs and agritourism.

Described by VCE agents as “one of the most productive and immaculate farms in the region,” Riverside Produce Farm and Muscadines is a contender for the organization’s 2022 Farmer of the Year. The 40-acre farm wholesales their produce (melons, heirloom tomatoes and adding muscadine grapes next fall) to stores and food hubs.

Once a corn and soybean “big tractor” farmer on many acres, the third generation owner of Slade Farms has converted his operation to two acres of organic produce and heirloom seed plots, specializing in sweet potato slips and elephant garlic. The farm motto is “Responsible Farming with Profitable Results.” Keeping old varieties alive to preserve for future generations is his passion.

The Farm Bus Tour, funded in part by the “Increasing Farmers Access to Resources and Management Solutions” (IFARMS) initiative, is targeted toward small-scale and new and beginning farmers, Rogers said. Some of the focus areas include direct marketing, value-added products, agritourism, specialty crops, sustainable farming practices, woodland opportunities and natural conservation.

The tour starts (8 a.m.) and ends (7 p.m.) at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore campus. Registration includes bus transportation to three to four farm visits, educational packets, light refreshments and one night hotel accommodation on Wednesday, Aug. 31, in addition to VSU’s field day on Thursday, Sept. 1.

Registration is open at https://farmbustour2022.eventbrite.com with more information to come. Fees are $75 for a single registrant and $125 for a party of two. The deadline to register is Aug. 24. Anyone in need of special services or accommodations must call 410-621-5450, ext. 106 two weeks in advance by Aug. 10.




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