OCEANFRONT – The Virginia Beach Excellence in Agriculture Committee held its annual awards banquet on Thursday, March 14, recognizing a former mayor, a developer known also for contributions to the equine industry, and the matriarch of a family known for a farm market that lives on in the hands of her family.
The event, held at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, recognized former Mayor Will Sessoms, who resigned his office this past year to return to the private sector, with the 2018 Special Recognition Award.
The late Elsie V. Creekmore, known for Creekmore’s Place, one of the original tenants in the Virginia Beach Farmers Market, earned the 2018 Friend of Agriculture Award, an honor shared with her family.
And Bart Frye, a businessperson, member of the Virginia Beach Agriculture Advisory Commission and owner of Alpha Omega Farm, earned the 2018 Excellence in Agriculture Award. It is given for significant contributions to the industry.
The evening gathered government leaders, farmers and loved ones for a celebration of the industry, and remarks returned repeatedly to themes of heritage, family and protecting land as a resource that can be handed down.
State Del. Barry Knight, R-81st District, introduced the evening’s speaker, Matthew Lohr, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which works with local agencies to help farmers and others with technical issues and efforts to conserve land.
Knight noted that Lohr, a farmer from Harrisonburg, already was serving in the Virginia General Asssembly when Knight was elected to the House of Delegates.
“When I got to the General Assembly 11 years ago, we doubled the farmers in the General Assembly,” Knight said. “He was the only one.”
Lohr, a fifth-generation farmer, spoke about his family’s history in the industry, farming heritage and the need to ensure farmland and natural resources are maintained.
“It’s those qualities and achievements that are celebrated and handed down from one generation to the next,” he said.
“We believe very strongly in protecting the resources the Good Lord gave us,” Lohr also said during his remarks.
City Councilmember Barbara Henley, a farmer who represents the Princess Anne District, introduced the award for Sessoms, her longtime colleague on the council.
“He was a great friend of the southern part of the city and agriculture,” Henley said of the former mayor during an interview.
During her remarks, she added that he was an early supporter of efforts to begin the agricultural reserve program, often known by the acronym ARP, in the mid-1990s. The city-backed program pays for development rights so farmland can remain in production while preventing challenges such as extending city services into rural communities.
“One of our strongest supporters was Will Sessoms,” Henley said, “and that support for the program continued throughout the entire time he served on City Council. … I really can’t remember a time Will wasn’t a strong supporter of whatever the southern part of the city needed.”
Sessoms then thanked farmers for the work they do and its impact on the city, state, nation and beyond.
“Think about what you all do every day,” he said. “It crosses the globe.”
Sessoms also spoke about his good fortune in that, as a youth, he was able enjoy the outdoors of the rural city and hunting and fishing.
“The southern part of the city is a big part of the reason Virginia Beach is the greatest city in the world,” Sessoms said.
Farmer Steve Barnes, who serves as the Princess Anne District representative on the Virginia Beach Planning Commission, introduced the award for Creekmore and her family.
He noted how what became an enduring family business began in the 1960s, opening a market in the Diamond Springs area, including buying local produce from local farmers for wholesale and retail.
When that farmers market closed, Creekmore’s Place became one of the first vendors at the Virginia Beach Farmers Market, where it remains, he said. Creekmore, known to many as the heart of the market, died this past year, but her family continues the business.
Sharon Creekmore Mosley, an educator who is continuing the legacy of market, spoke movingly about her mother and her family.
“I speak for all of us when I say we are greatly humbled and thankful to accept this award on behalf of our beloved mother, grandmother, aunt, cousin, great grandmother and stepmom,” she said.
“Who would have thought that a small, African-American family business that started to sell the overflow of vegetables from a large family garden – and to have a place to raise children and make them work and stay out of trouble – would be here some 50 years later?
“The heart of my mother’s love for the market is still beating with us,” she said.
City Agriculture Director David Trimmer introduced Frye, who received the 2018 Excellence in Agriculture Award, noting that Frye brings business experience and an understanding of the equine industry to his service on the advisory commission.
Mayor Bobby Dyer then read a proclamation about Frye’s recognition, and Frye, in remarks that followed, spoke of his support for the agriculture reserve program and preserving rural communities for future generations.
“It’s not normal for a developer to get an agriculture award,” Frye said, earning laughter. “And I would appreciate you not telling any of my developer friends that I am a staunch supporter of not just the Green Line but the right for future kids in our community to have a place to go see what a farm is.”
Frye spoke about the importance of redevelopment of urban areas rather than “chewing up” farmland – and of leaving “legacies as opposed to just turning a profit.”
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