The Innovations in Agriculture awards never fail to inspire us. We love seeing the creative solutions that our farmers develop to their farming problems. This year, it was extra inspiring to see how our farms continued to innovate, adapt and evolve even as the pandemic was creating its own set of challenges.
The applicant pool this year is wonderful, not only because of what each farm independently accomplished, but also because of what the applications as a group show: farms of a variety of sizes and crops coming up with solutions that range from mechanical, to technological, to biochemical. In just 6 applications, you can see Virginia’s diversity of independent farms, all united by their commitment to creative problem-solving, respect for the land, and good quality food.
Our two winners alone show this diversity: Phantom Hill Farm is just a few acres. Owners Kathyrn and Chris are first-generation farmers, farming on land not previously used for agriculture. Saunders Brothers Orchard is over a hundred years old and several hundred acres. Phantom Hill developed a mechanical solution, creatively updating pre-existing farm equipment for easier and more efficient use, modeling for other farms what can be accomplished with a little experimentation and some lumber. Saunders Brothers went out on a limb to find a more natural pesticide option, despite the ease and convenience of the conventional option. Now, they will be able to serve as an example for other orchards looking for more environmentally-friendly practices.
Our other applicants also demonstrate this diversity. Church Hill developed a CSA program in response to COVID in remote Highland county, demonstrating that it is possible to pivot successfully while still primarily serving more dispersed, rural communities. Riverside demonstrated considerable mechanical acumen in developing a conveyor belt for harvesting melons, creating their own version of something that is size and cost prohibitive for small farms. Fields Edge Farm developed a technological approach to data collection that will not only save them time, but can be replicated for other farms. Sunnyfield, similar to Phantom Hill, updated existing equipment to save considerable manual labor.
All together, these applications demonstrate the resilience, nimbleness, and creativity of our area’s independent farms. Thank you to all our applicants!