AmericanFarm.com

Va. inviting visitors to get to roots (Editorial)

(May 30, 2017) The boy appeared to be 7, or maybe 8 years old.
Standing on a stepstool, he was leaning over a wash tub, swirling his hands in soybeans, which filled half of the tub.
He would scoop up handfuls of the soybeans and let them dribble between his fingers.
“They feel good,” he said. “What are they?”
“Soybeans.”
“What are soybeans?”
“Farmers grow them.”
“ For what?”
“They use them to make feed for the chickens.”
The boy continued to swirl his hands through the soybeans and then watch them as they spilled from his hands and back into the tub.
“This is the first time I ever heard about soybeans,” he said. “They’re cool.”
That conversation, inside a tent set up in Baltimore to attempt to let folks there know what farming is all about, is not an exaggeration.
It is not overzealous in its attempt to inform not only youngsters but often their parents as well that as farming goes, so goes — among many other considerations — your trip to the supermarket.
The agricultural industry — in all of its conglomerate parts — has been on a mission — to educate the 21st century families who have little if any ag savvy and who dominate our current culture, on what it takes to grow the food they eat and to get that food on their dinner tables.
Among those efforts is a project unveiled by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services entitled “Grab Summer by the Roots.”
VDACS describes the project this way.
“With summer vacation travel upon us, many people are looking for destinations that offer beautiful scenery, colorful waterslides, quaint cafes and an opportunity to work on the tan-line.
“Some, however, are also interested in combining a few days away from work with an educational component. Virginia offers numerous destinations where travelers can learn more about the fascinating history of agriculture in Virginia.
“Each offers a glimpse into our past along with examples of how farming became the leading industry in Virginia.”
Here are six that top the department’s list.
• Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington: Initially growing tobacco as his cash crop, Washington soon realized that tobacco alone was not economically sustainable and he switched to grains, particularly wheat, as a cash crop in the 1760s.
Washington once said, “I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.”
• Cyrus McCormick Farm: This historic 620-acre farm in the scenic Shenandoah Valley highlights the accomplishments of the McCormick family including the birthplace of the mechanical reaper, the predecessor to the modern combine harvester, a machine that would truly change American agriculture.
• Shirley Plantation: Situated on a picturesque bluff above the banks of the James River near Charles City, this grand old plantation represents some of the most fascinating history about life in early Virginia agriculture. It was at Shirley that Anne Hill Carter was born, and on June 18, 1793 married Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee in the mansion’s parlor. The couple would be the parents of the famous Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
• Frontier Culture Museum: The Museum is made up of original or reproduced examples of American farms from the 1740s, 1820s and 1850s eras, as well as farms settled by immigrants from Igbo West Africa, England, Germany, and Ireland, including an Irish Forge. These early Virginians eventually became Americans and contributed to the success of the colonies and the United States.
• Monticello’s South Orchard: At historic Monticello in Charlottesville, Thomas Jefferson planted more than 1,000 fruit trees in his South Orchard between 1769 and 1814, including at least 18 varieties of apple, 38 varieties of peach, along with numerous cherry, pear, plum, nectarine, almond and apricot trees.
On Aug. 5 and Aug. 19, between the hours of 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., Gabriele Rausse, director of gardens and grounds at Monticello, and staff will entertain visitors to the South Orchard with the fruits of summer: early apples, peaches, figs, grapes, nectarines, blackberries and others.
• Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum: The Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum, in Sterling, is a non-profit museum dedicated to “preserving, promoting and bringing to life the rich agricultural history of Loudoun County.” It includes a children’s farm where kids can milk a life-like cow, collect eggs from the play chickens and ride the Equi-ponies.
VDACS notes proudly that agriculture is the largest private industry in the state with an economic impact of $52 billion annually.
It’s worth showing off.