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Delawareans Learn "Secrets" of Small Farm Profitability from Virginia Producers   

Delawareans Learn "Secrets" of Small Farm Profitability from Virginia Producers   

“If you want to be successful growing anything, find out what is in your soil.”  That was one message Clifton Slade shared with 28 Delaware minority farmers, extension specialists, students, and agri-business representatives who traveled to Virginia to learn inside secrets from some of Virginia’s most successful small farmers.

Delaware State University Cooperative Extension, the Delaware Center for Enterprise Development, and USDA Risk Management Agency co-sponsored the two-day Minority Farm Enrichment bus tour in cooperation with Virginia State University.  Slade, a Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) agriculture management agent and successful small farmer, served as a tour guide for the group who travelled by bus to learn successful farming techniques and business practices from small and minority farmers. Soil importance was just one of many messages that was emphasized on the tour and backed by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), who provided technical support.

During the two-day tour, participants visited four southern Virginia farms with field/specialty crops ranging from blueberries to sweet potatoes.  During each stop, the host farmer or farmers recalled their history in farming and offered valuable lessons about starting and operating a farm.  Sweet potato farmer Wendell Scott focused on the benefits of small farming operations.  Approximately 6,000 sweet potato plants growing on half an acre will yield about 300 bushels.  With sweet potatoes running about $19 per bushel, Scott says the math speaks for itself. Herbert Townes, who farms a quarter acre, mirrored Scott’s thoughts.  He also added, “Don’t start too big; you could get overwhelmed and tend to quit.”

Jan Fitzgerald of “Barry’s Berries and Jan’s Jams” makes homemade Jams from their pick-your-own fruit orchard.  She says that her mother and grandmother used to make jams and she just fell right into it.  Jan turned her cooking skills into a profitable business that landed her a $20,000 contract to provide jam to the College of William and Mary.  Jan and Barry have also received technical assistance from VCE and financial assistance from NRCS for plantings for pollinators to help with vegetable and tree production, non-burning alternatives for air quality, as well as native grass plantings for reduced soil erosion.

Of all of the advice and lessons given, each farmer reiterated several key messages throughout the tour:

  • Go to your university’s extension service or USDA NRCS Service Center for assistance

  • Take advantage of all available resources

  • Don’t start too big

Successful farming can be attained through experience, learning from others, and time.  Slade said his dad had very little education, but may have summed it up best, “I went to school one day in place of my sister, but I can teach you a thing or two.”  His quote embraces the idea that you never know who can provide you with help, so always be willing to learn. 

Caption: Slade pulls a sweet potato root from the ground to give participants a first-hand look at its maturity cycle. (photo by Dastina Wallace)


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