Keep Farmers Afloat encompasses our work to preserve and promote working farmlands and sustainable agriculture in the Richmond region. From helping to keep prime agricultural soils in sustainable production through conservation easements, to supporting the laborers of working farms, community gardens, and famers markets, we at CRLC recognize how important farmers and their stewardship of our natural resources are to the economy, environment, and culture of the Richmond region and Virginia as a whole. #keepfarmersafloat
Farms Under Threat
Virginia is rapidly compromising its viability to serve as a leading agricultural producer, despite agriculture being its largest industry — and a beloved dimension of its heritage and culture. That’s according in part to a new report, Farms Under Threat: The State of the States, published by the American Farmland Trust (AFT), which shows us that between 1982 and 2012, Virginia alone has lost 0.18 acres of agricultural land for every new person added to the state’s population. This alarming loss of farmland statewide is mirrored in degrees across the rest of the United States — a nation sometimes considered the breadbasket of the world.
The primary reason for the substantial loss of farmland in Virginia is a newly understood trend called low-density residential (LDR) land use. LDR land use mostly consists of developing large-lot, non-farming residences in areas where agricultural is currently practiced or at least remains viable. Think big houses located on land that many might have considered “country.” Ultimately, when practiced widely, LDR land use paves over, fragments, and converts our state’s agricultural land base. This in turn jeopardizes sustainable food production, economic opportunities, and the environmental benefits afforded by well-managed farmland.
Farms Under Threat highlights the stark reality that, while farmland is disappearing nationwide, it’s disappearing far faster in Virginia than in most of the rest of the country. Virginia ranked in the Top 10 for acres of agricultural land developed per new person added to the state’s population. More than 339,000 acres of farmland were developed in Virginia between 2001 and 2016. Of this, eighty percent (80%) was converted to low-density residential development while only 20% converted to urban and highly developed areas. The total loss to conversion proportionately impacted cropland (32%), pastureland (32%), and woodland (36%). And this trend seems to be neither stymied by nor attributed to changes in the macroeconomic environment: approximately 4% of the entire agricultural land in Virginia was permanently lost in just 15 years despite the Great Recession and plummeting new housing starts.
While the Farms Under Threat report doesn’t narrow its analysis to the regional or county level, we are able to see the precise impacts of the agricultural land loss in the Richmond region by reviewing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Census of Agriculture that is taken once every five years. This complete count of U.S. farms, ranches, and the people who operate them shows us that:
- The Richmond region lost a total of 87,539 acres of farmland since 1982.
- The region’s percentage of land area for agriculture decreased from more than 25% to 17%.
- The number of farms reported to the USDA increased 5%, or up 85 to 1,709, though the average farm size decreased from 202 acres to 151.
The Farms Under Threat report evaluates and ranks along two axes: 1) the threat to the state’s agricultural land and 2) the state’s current policy response to the threat. In the case of Virginia, the good news is that our policy response is relatively strong — we received a “Medium” ranking for our overall policy measures that protect agricultural land, such as purchase of agricultural conservation easements (PACE) and land-use planning, which in Virginia is mandated and delegated to local governments.
The bad news is that this policy response is, according to the report, dangerously inadequate relative to the threat to our state’s agricultural land. Virginia is ranked in the second-to-worse category because the state’s conversion threat is considered to be significantly higher than its policy response, relative to other states.
This fact seems strikingly at odds with the underlying reality that the Farms Under Threat report did not account for: agriculture is Virginia’s largest and arguably most important industry. The industry has an economic impact of $70 billion annually and provides more than 334,000 jobs in the Commonwealth. What’s more, it touches other industries: Virginia’s tourism industry certainly benefits from postcard-worth vignettes of hay bales, rolling farmland, and scenic wineries. Yet between 2001 and 2016, Virginia converted 339,800 acres of farmland —enough land to generate $164 million in annual agricultural revenue alone.
As if this data wasn’t already alarming, the COVID-19 pandemic has made us keenly aware of the risks of a consolidated nationwide food production and distribution system that is further distanced from the consumer and has highlighted disparities with local food shortages. We experienced low inventory at grocery stores and depleted shelves at food banks, while producers were dumping milk or reluctantly letting produce rot. Clearly something is broken — and it’s not an abundance of farmland.
Unfortunately, there is not an easy, one-size-fits-all solution to this complex problem. Although LDR land use is a major culprit, farmland is being converted into different uses for an array of different reasons and in different contexts. Virginia therefore needs to consider multiple policy approaches to reverse farmland loss and safeguard its agricultural resources. As the report noted, the state is already doing some good work: requiring localities to address and plan for future land use through a system of comprehensive plans; mandating a purchase of development rights (PDR) to develop farmland through PACE, what Virginia offers through its Farmland Preservation Program. Yet these measures are too often either insufficiently adopted or insufficient in scope. Only one of seven counties in the Richmond region, for example, has a PDR program in place — New Kent County.
We need to do more, and from a land conservation perspective, one partial solution could be found in working with regional bodies, from both government and community organizations, to identify the remaining prime soils and land in order to generate an updated layer for agricultural security and land use visioning. There are already such layers in existence, but we need to more effectively convene with the planning departments to disallow significant development on that land. What’s more, there are likely numerous small fixes to the current system that can be made. If there is federal money involved in development, for example, they’re technically supposed to permanently protect other prime soils as compensation, but that is not always enforced.
A close evaluation of our current system’s shortcomings may reveal relatively easy fixes, while an emphasis on greater collaboration in pursuit reinvigorated attention and stewardship of farmland can stimulate larger policies shifts that ultimately benefit all Virginian’s and our state’s largest industry. Virginia was built on a foundation of agriculture, and the emerging era of epidemics, climate change, and extreme market uncertainty is no time to turn away from farming. If anything, environmentally sustainable farmland should be seen as our state’s competitive advantage, along with its culture’s heart and soul.
Watch the webinar below to hear our Executive Director, Parker Agelasto, discuss these findings as they relate to the Richmond region.
Local Food Directory
Farmers and market operators are having to adapt to overcome challenges presented by COVID-19. We hope you will join us during this crisis to support farmers as they drive the local food economy while caring for our natural resources.
Below we’ve compiled a local food toolkit where you can buy local food, find farmers markets, and learn more about how land, food, and COVID-19 are all related.
|HOW TO BUY
|fruits, jams, & oat bars
|Lakside’s Tiny Acre
|greens & vegetables
|Deer Run Farm
|produce & plants
|Bring Forth Urban Farm
|greens & microgreens
|jams & pickles
|Great Harvest Bread Co.
|breads & pastries
|Lakeside; St. Stephen’s
|breads, plants, & salad mix
|produce & seedlings
|Snyder Family Farm
|organic meats & eggs
|Hazel Witch Farms
|garlic, herbs, & teas
|Meadow Acre Farms
|vegetables & greens
|Birdhouse; Dorey Park
|produce & cut flowers
|Birdhouse; South of the James
|Black Creek Farm
|South of the James
|Fall Line Farms
|non-profit CSA; variety of products
|Field of Dreams Farm
|local co-op & pop-up; variety of products
NOTE: Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 is extremely fluid, all markets and vendors are taking precautionary measures that may shift from week to week. Make sure you check with each market and vendor beforehand to get the latest on how they are taking orders or accepting visitors. Click here for a state-wide farmers market directory.
Lakeside Farmers Market
Lakeside Farmer’s Market is open Saturdays 9AM-Noon, and Wednesdays 9am-2pm. The market is outside and allows for plenty of space between vendors.
While attending the market, please approach vendors one person at a time to pick up your preorder. Stay six feet from the products and others visiting the market.
Please call ahead to arrange SNAP purchases at 804-437-2475 or ask the vendor for assistance.
St. Stephen’s Farmers Market
St. Stephen’s Farmer’s Market is open Saturdays 9am-12pm. Customers should limit themselves to one person per booth while those in line wait six feet away.
The market is still not a place to linger. Please get what you need and go home, so all may shop safely. If possible, send one person per household for pickup.
NO pets at the market until further notice.
South of the James Farmers Market
South of the James Farmer’s Market is open Saturdays in Bryan Park. Drive-thru hours will be 8am to 9:45 a.m., followed by a walk-in service from 10 a.m. to noon. Market hours may change going forward.
For drive-thru service, visitors need to preorder by contacting vendors directly. A list of vendors is on the market’s Facebook page, below. Visitors are required to wear face masksand should shop individually. Children and dogs not allowed.
Birdhouse Farmers Market
Birdhouse Farmers Market runs May – November / Tuesdays, 3:00 – 6:30 pm.
Walk-up style market with rigorous social distancing protocols in place. Please do not linger during your shopping trip and please you leave your pets at home. Shoppers are strongly encouraged to pre-order.
SNAP customers are welcome, and SNAP discounts (50%) are available for fruits and vegetables.
Huguenot-Robious Farmers Market
Huguenot-Robious Farmers Market is open year-round every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is located at The Great Big Greenhouse and Nursery.
The market offers Virginia-grown produce, Virginia-made products from local artisans, pasture-raised beef, pork, seafood, and eggs.
Dorey Park Farmers Market
Dorey Park Farmers Market invites online shopping starting Sundays at noon through Wednesdays at midnight. Customers can pick up their orders at Dorey Park 9am-11am or Patriots Landing 10am-11am on Saturday mornings.
“Pickups are drive through, no fuss, no touch.”
West End Farmers Market
West End Farmers Market is open Saturdays 9am – Noon. According to their website, they are the only farmer-owned market in Virginia. You can find their vendor list on their newsletter, which is posted on their website and Facebook.
Located at The Lawn at Gayton Centre on the corner of Ridgefield & Gayton Roads by Ollie’s Discount Market.