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Letter: Virginia Beach agriculture commissioners oppose proposal to end farmland preservation program

Ed. — Virginia Beach Agriculture Advisory Commission Chairperson Diane Horsley and fellow members of the commission signed the following letter to Mayor Will Sessoms and members of the City Council on Monday, April 9, in opposition to a Friday, March 23, memorandum by City Manager Dave Hansen, which proposed ending the agricultural reserve program, or ARP, and shifting its dedicated funding to stormwater projects during the ongoing budget process. The letter has been edited for style.

Dear Mayor and Council Members:

It is with all due respect and sincere concern that I write this letter on behalf of the Agriculture Advisory Commission opposing the City Manager’s letter dated March 23rd to City Council that stated “the intent and purpose of the ARP program is no longer valid” due to pressing concerns about managing flooding and sea level rise here in our city.

We understand the severity of sea level rise and the extreme importance of storm water management. However, at the same time we know that eliminating ARP and using its $4 million will not alleviate these concerns. Yet it does preserve the third largest industry in our city — agriculture.

On a more personal note, four of the five members of our commission are members of generation farm families. Agriculture was a way of life for many who lived here previously, many who live here presently and, most importantly, for future generations. It is not only a way of life but a true, sincere passion and family culture. Agriculture has always been and should remain a choice for a way of life in Virginia Beach. For the past 23 years, the ARP has helped ensure generational farming by preserving prime farmland — more than 9,700 acres — and helping farmers maintain, improve and even expand operations.

Many citizens call the city of Virginia Beach their home also say “they live in the greatest city in the world.” Why do many citizens say this? We say it because our city offers such special diversity.

First, it provides amazing events, some that are agriculturally inspired, as a tourist attraction. Simply put Virginia Beach is a beautiful, clean, fun place to live. Secondly, the long and proud relationship with the U.S. Navy that is so very important and calls Virginia Beach home. Last but not least, agriculture is the centerpiece for rural life in southern Virginia Beach. As stated earlier, agriculture is our city’s third largest industry, making an economic impact of approximately $125 million annually.

We know as farm families and as commission members representing the agriculture industry in Virginia Beach that the most effective way to protect our environment is by preserving prime farm land. It protects our water and air, provides natural habitat, and enhances the quality of life for the whole community.

The ARP that the City Manager has proposed to eliminate in the FY19 budget is designed to maintain agriculture as a viable industry in Virginia Beach by preserving the resource base for farming. With this program we are preserving our city’s most precious natural resource, reducing development in the southern end of the city, reducing storm water issues, helping address sea level rise issues while reducing pressure for infrastructure and so importantly we are allowing family farming operations here to continue to grow and do our part to help feed a starving world. Please note that farm families, 2 percent of the population, are feeding 100 percent of the world population.

Let’s continue to do our part and put ourselves in a position to say, “We are so glad we left this program in place. It was the final answer to several of our city’s pressing problems, concerns and future.”

Respectfully,

Diane Horsley, Chairperson

W.P. “Billy” Vaughan, Vice Chairperson

John Cromwell, Secretary

Jason Dawley, Commissioner

Bart Frye, Commissioner


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