VIRGINIA BEACH — In December, David Trimmer, the director of Virginia Beach Department of Agriculture, held a breakfast meeting at Eddy’s Café in Red Mill with members of the committee that selects each year’s Excellence in Agriculture award.
The committee is, as Trimmer put it, a “who’s who” of local agriculture, all past recipients of the award, many from longtime farming families who define the industry.
They discussed details of the upcoming awards banquet on Thursday, March 22, at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. The gathering is a centerpiece of Ag Week. The committee members did something that stunned Trimmer.
They nominated him for the award.
“I waited four days before I told my wife,” he said recently. “I really couldn’t believe they were serious. It’s a huge honor. It was a nice moment. An extremely nice moment.”
Trimmer said he was surprised because he’s not from here and he has never been a farmer. He now runs a department that supports a leading industry in Virginia Beach, coordinates with state extension officials and operates a thriving farmers market, but, when he was young, he wanted to be an accountant. He never dreamed he’d be in agriculture. He has, however, now worked in what he called the three basics of life – taxes, death and food.
Trimmer grew up in Wellsburg, W.Va., a small town about an hour southwest of Pittsburg and 30 minutes north Wheeling. In high school, he participated in sports, worked some in steel and, as an entrepreneurial pursuit with a cousin, helped maintain the grounds of a local cemetery.
“We did dig some graves,” he said.
It all went toward his dream of working with numbers. Analysis. Solving problems. Preparing taxes. He earned undergraduate and masters degrees in accounting from West Virginia University and the University of Richmond, respectively, and passed the certified public accountant exam in West Virginia.
Trimmer worked in executive positions. Finance. Plant management. Southern States Cooperative, Inc., in Richmond. Smithfield Foods in Green Bay, Wisc. The Sun Land Beef Packing Plant in Phoenix, Ariz. Big business.
He wasn’t too sure about Arizona when he got there, checking out a new potential position at the behest of a friend and industry colleague.
“It’s pretty brown,” Trimmer remembered saying. He was married to his wife, Maggie, by then. He considered his parents still in West Virginia, thinking “We’re East Coast people.”
But the job was right and the Phoenix area turned out to be a beautiful place.
The Trimmers had a daughter, Rilie, who was six in 2008 when someone suggested a potential opportunity to move back east. A director’s position had opened up in Virginia Beach’s department of agriculture.
“I really didn’t know anything about working in government,” he said. “But I thought about East Coast, my parents in West Virginia. At the twelfth hour, I submitted my resume.”
With his business background, he said, he didn’t think anything would come of it.
Jim Spore, the city manager here at the time, did. “David had some really good private sector experience in a related agricultural field,” Spore said. That was a plus, but it was also Trimmer’s attitude and his enthusiasm.
“We’re the largest city in Virginia, which is almost an irony in and of itself that we’re probably the only city in Virginia that has an agriculture department,” Spore said. “It’s always been a key part of our economic development strategy, maintaining the vibrant agricultural segment of our economy. It’s just a diversity piece that most other cities don’t have. And David got it right from day one, and, I mean, just dove right in.”
Trimmer commuted on weekends back to Arizona while he was getting acquainted with his new job, new people, new area and becoming a representative of an industry in Virginia Beach. It was the beginning of the real estate bubble burst. It took four years for Trimmer’s house to sell and for his family to join him.
“Every year since then,” Trimmer said, “we have a family holiday day on Oct. 1 – the day I started this job.”
Trimmer’s business background also is a strength for city officials and those in the local agriculture industry.
“We make certain that agriculture is appreciated as an industry,” said City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District and is a partner in Henley Farms. “These are businesses, not land that’s out there waiting to be developed. It’s got a very important role.”
Agriculture is a small department in comparison to others in Virginia Beach, but, Henley said Trimmer “has a lot of enthusiasm, and a desire to get out there and make sure everybody remembers agriculture.”
In Virginia Beach, that means more than just produce farming for consumers. It includes equine and livestock, feed grain production, agritourism and education. That’s not just for local residents, but also to build relationships between agriculture businesses and regulatory agencies. Trimmer has become a trusted liaison, said state Del. Barry D. Knight, R-81st House District, and a retired farmer. Like Henley, Knight is a past recipient of the agriculture award.
Trimmer cuts to the chase, Knight said.
“He talks like a business person,” Knight said. “Farmers, first and foremost, are business people. He tells you what needs to be done, and if he says he’s going to do something, he just does it.”
The award is given for contributions people make to agriculture in the city of Virginia Beach, Knight said. Over the years, he added, the award has been given to not only farmers, but businesses and other individuals.
There are 55 awardees listed on a wooden plaque outside Trimmer’s office door at the city municipal center. The first engraved plate on the top left corner is dated 1966, with “Mr. W. Clark Fleming” underneath. Several years contain two name plates. Most names are familiar to Trimmer, and many are friends who share mutual respect. Among the names is the first director of the agriculture department, E. R. “Dick” Cockrell.
Trimmer remembers Cockrell with affection.
“We kind of struck up a natural bond,” Trimmer said. “It was like I was the future, and he was the past. He came up here one day and said he had something he wanted me to have. He tells me the story, that this came from Bayville Farm. In essence, he said ‘I’m not going to be here that much longer. I’d like for you to clean it up and keep the look.’”
A few minor repairs later, Trimmer still had the sign, but still wasn’t sure where to put it.
Then Cockrell passed away. The sign has been on Trimmer’s wall ever since.
It shows a Holstein cow. Underneath the cow, deep green lettering declares “BAYVILLE FARMS,” and, in an oval beneath that, “SINCE 1919.”
Soon Trimmer’s name will be a few rows over from Cockrell’s on the plaque.
Deservedly, according to Spore.
People have affection for Trimmer, Spore said. “He’s a super positive person,” he said, “and the kind of guy you like to be around.”
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