Fellows of inaugural VALOR class poised to become agents of agricultural change
Having completed the curriculum for the inaugural class of the Virginia Agricultural Leaders Obtaining Results program, VALOR fellows are now on their way to becoming ambassadors to the many sectors of the agriculture industry in Virginia and beyond.
“It is hard to believe that two years has come to a close with this inaugural class,” said Megan Seibel, director of the VALOR program. “I have been honored to see the ideas that were developed put into practice as we travelled and learned together. VALOR is in a very exciting position as these men and women begin our alumni legacy and we prepare to welcome the second group of fellows.”
The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ VALOR Program is designed to develop leaders who can effectively engage all segments of the Virginia agricultural community to create collaborative solutions and promote agriculture inside and outside the industry.
Over the last two years, the 10 VALOR fellows participated in 12 seminars that took them across Virginia, the region, and even overseas when they visited Argentina. Fellows were embraced by many representatives of the agricultural sector including cattle ranchers, oyster harvesters, Christmas tree farmers, berry growers, national grocery store chains, and farm credit agencies to name a few.
Seminars gave VALOR fellows an up-close look at food production and distribution in both urban and rural settings taking them to urban hubs in Northern Virginia and sparsely populated farmlands.
The inaugural class recently graduated during a ceremony at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center.
A proclamation from Gov. Terry McAuliffe was read during the ceremony’s greetings to program fellows, special guests and families, and advisory council members. In attendance were the Commissioner of Agriculture Sandy Adams and keynote speaker Matt Rush, a fourth generation farmer and rancher from New Mexico, among other agriculture industry stakeholders.
During the graduation ceremony advisory council members were recognized for their service and contribution to the inaugural program. Stan Brantley, former president of Amadas Industries — a leader in peanut harvesting technology — was posthumously recognized for his service as a member.
Prior to the graduation ceremony the inaugural cohort had one final service class at Feeding America Southwest Virginia in Salem where fellows sorted pallets of food and other items for repacking and distribution, assembled crates, and also gave a monetary donation.
Graduates received certificates of achievement and program lapel pins. Personal best leadership projects were featured from the graduates in the ceremony, and highlighted independent projects they have been planning and executing throughout the last year.
Inaugural VALOR fellows include:
- Roger Elkins of Jonesville, Virginia, construction manager with Virginia Department of Transportation and operator of Elkins Sandy Spring Farm;
- Dana Fisher of New Market, Virginia, agricultural education teacher at Central High School;
- Benjamin Grove of Blacksburg, Virginia, associate director of development for Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences;
- Ian Heatwole of Weyers Cave, Virginia, producer and manager of Fox Run Farms LLC and FRF Cross Keys LLC;
- Matt Hickey of Staunton, Virginia, owner of Breezewood Hill Farm, home of Shenandoah Valley Cattle Company and Classic Carriage;
- C.J. Isbell of Rockville, Virginia, co-owner and managing member of Keenbell Farm LLC and professional firefighter and paramedic in Washington, D.C.;
- Teresa Lindberg of Jarratt, Virginia, agricultural education teacher at Edward W. Wyatt Middle School;
- Hunter Richardson of Shacklefords, Virginia, owner/operator of Richardson Farm;
- Ken Ryan of Edinburg, Virginia, credit analyst with MidAtlantic Farm Credit; and
- Andrew Smith of Beaverdam, Virginia, senior assistant director of governmental relations with Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and owner of a commercial hay operation.