PUNGO – Dr. Basil Gooden, the state agriculture and forestry secretary, visited Virginia Beach to meet with the city agriculture staff and state extension representatives and tour local farms in the southern end of the city.
The visit was part of the arrival of Gov. Terry McAuliffe and cabinet members in the Hampton Roads region last month. Gooden met with a number of farmers in the southern end of the city and visited a large tract in Chesapeake being farmed by the Blackwater-based, family-run Land of Promise Farms.
At that stop, Gooden even caught a tractor ride with Ryan Horsley, getting a clear view of how the family planted corn — some 16 rows at a time — on fields where biosolids had been applied.
Among other things, Gooden sampled local berries at The Flip Flop Farmer in Pungo, saw the Vaughan family smokehouse being used for the 4-H country cured ham project, and visted Cullipher Farm’s Berry Patch location, where he discussed agritourism, crops and even a grant program that lost funding.
That was a decision by the General Assembly, Gooden said, though he added: “We’re going to make good on that.”
David Trimmer, the city’s agriculture director, said the visit was a chance to demonstrate how local efforts use resources to protect Virginia Beach’s third leading industry, including state services such as the cooperative extension.
“We’re all working together for the same goal, which is the growth and sustainabilty of agriculture.” Trimmer said.
Gooden, Trimmer and farmer Bruce Henley of The Flip Flop Farmer discussed efforts such as a city program through which produce growers set up farm markets at libraries, which Henley said allows farmers to reach new customers who may not regularly make it to Virginia Beach’s southern reaches. Henley has developed new, regular repeat business.
“This is exciting stuff,” Gooden said. “It’s not only connecting the farmers to the people, but people to the farmers.”
In Chesapeake, Don Horsley of Land of Promise Farms said a goal for the secretary’s visit was to reflect the industry here.
“I just want him to understand that in this part of southeastern Virginia agriculture is a big industry,” he said. “It’s an important industry down here in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.”
A moment later, Horsley had a question for Gooden, who is also a cattle farmer.
“Did you realize there was as much agriculture down here?” Horsley asked.
“No,” Gooden replied. “You really don’t think about it sometimes.”
“And there’s so much good land, too,” Horsley said. “You’ve got to protect it.”
Gooden said he hoped to leave a message for local farmers that they can reach out to his office when they need him.
“I really do respect what they do in the area,” he said.
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