BY JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE
OCEANFRONT – Nelson Eddy Morris thanked God for allowing his family to be “stewards of His creation” during the 2016 Excellence in Agriculture banquet on Thursday, March 16, at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
Morris, his brother James Morris, and his son Nelson Scott Morris shared the annual Excellence in Agriculture Award. It is given to an individual or family who have demonstrated a strong work ethic, commitment to agriculture and service to the community, said David Trimmer, Virginia Beach’s agriculture director.
The family received the Excellence in Agriculture Award for their innovative farming methods and stewardship of the land, according to Mike Cullipher, a Pungo produce farmer, and City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who presented the award.
“They are always finding innovative ways to farm, save money, and be good stewards of the land,” Cullipher said.
“I thank God for allowing the Morris family to be stewards of His creation,” said Nelson Morris, whose family has farmed in Princess Anne County for 13 generations. “And I also want to recognize farm wives. They are the first ones up in the morning, and the last ones to go to bed at night.”
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell, keynote speaker for the event, also praised Virginia Beach farmers who continue to make a major contribution while living in the state’s largest city.
Agriculture and forestry, McDonnell said, are Virginia’s largest industries, contributing $70 billion annually to the economy and producing more than 400,000 jobs.
“The impact of what you do, not just for Virginia Beach but for the state, is remarkable,” McDonnell said. “It’s your work ethic that makes a difference in what you do.”
The state government supports agriculture through a number of resources, McDonnell said. In 2012, the General Assembly created the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, which supports agribusiness with grants for capital investment, job creation and commitments to buy Virginia grown products.
International trade is a primary focus of the development fund, and representatives are actively promoting trade with Asian and European countries and Canada.
In 2015, the top export markets for Virginia agriculture were China, Canada and Switzerland, and soybeans, pork and lumber were the biggest exports, McDonnell said.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Excellence in Agriculture Award, and the award recipients are selected by a committee that includes previous winners, Trimmer said.
The committee also acknowledged the Virginia Beach Master Gardeners with the 2016 Friend of Agriculture Award. The city’s 227 Master Gardeners contribute over 29,000 volunteer hours to the city, Extension Agent Andrea Davis said.
“They are out in the community,” said Davis, educating the public on a variety of topics including sustainable landscaping, water conservation and vegetable gardening. They also maintain theme gardens at the city’s historic houses and a kitchen garden at the Virginia Beach Farmers Market.
John-Henry Doucette, editor and publisher of The Independent News, was also recognized as a special recipient for his support of the agriculture industry.
Doucette, in receiving the award, said that he hoped that residents of southern Virginia Beach and Knotts Island, N.C., consider The Independent News their newspaper “even if you don’t like every single word that we print.”
The Virginia Dare Soil and Water Conservation District also acknowledged Virginia Beach farmer David Salmons for his role in conservation. That award was granted for working with the district to improve water quality and for implementing a variety of conservation methods, including cover crops and tire recycling.
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