By Kim Walter
WOODSTOCK -- Students with Central High School's Future Farmers of America may soon become part of a nationwide agricultural movement.
That movement -- Main Street Agriculture -- was the chief topic of a Central High School FFA meeting Wednesday during which students learned the importance of supporting farmers in a changing agricultural landscape.
Dee Cook, membership development specialist for the Virginia Farm Bureau, spoke to students about the importance of agriculture in the modern world, and how the state's Farm Bureau is working to spread the word.
Cook said while she didn't grow up on a farm, she was still taught the importance of agriculture. Once a week her family would purchase local produce from a central location -- something that is now better known as community supported agriculture. By paying a fee, citizens get a portion of produce grown close to home.
As she gained interest in the thought of agriculture and government working together in the food distribution chain, Cook came across the Farm Bureau and was "quickly sold."
When asked what the Farm Bureau does, a long pause overcame the FFA members until one student called it "an insurance company."
Cook explained that insurance is only one of the benefits of being a Farm Bureau member.
"A member pays $40 a year ... that's it," she said. "Yet everything we do, including education and support for our farmers, is controlled by these member funds."
Challenges face today's agriculture industry, Cook said, like the need for more farmers and the increasing loss of farm land. With the looming projected rise in population over the next 40 years, she said the gap needs to be bridged.
"Where will we get our food?" she asked. "Food will always be a market place. When all else fails, food matters."
Cook told the students that they are the generation she's fighting for. She said it starts with the youth, like those participating in FFA, and making sure they understand the necessity in supporting farmers, especially locally.
That is where the Main Street Agriculture movement comes into play.
In October, the Frederick County Farm Bureau was the first to hold an event, or "celebration," to kick off the movement. The chapter worked with the Virginia Main Street program to bring together local vendors, farmers and exhibitors to show the community just what it had to offer.
Held in Winchester's downtown walking mall, the day brought about 15 vendors, who sold a variety of products that came from agriculture, like fruit, meat, plants, cheese, wine and even clothing.
Activities were provided for kids as well, and two music acts entertained those who participated. Food demonstrations, using local produce, were given at several downtown restaurants.
"This was all about educating the community about what it has to offer," Cook said.
Now, Cook is ready to spread the movement to other counties in the state, and make each "celebration" specific to the area. She said it wouldn't be hard to give each locality a special flare, as agriculture focuses can vary just between neighboring counties -- and definitely between places in the north, south, east and west parts of Virginia.
The movement is also important to connect farmers and producers with their consumers -- both rely on each other.
"Think about it. If we gain nationwide attention with this, at the end, Virginia will be known as the genesis of such a movement, and we can say it actually launched right here," she told students.
Just like the FFA in Frederick County participated in the event last fall, Cook asked Central High School's FFA what they could bring to such an event.
"How can you educate your fellow community members on the importance of buying fresh, buying local?" she asked them. "Everyone can be a part of this. Looking out at you today gives me hope that we can make this happen."
Cook said plans are already in the works to expand the movement to nearby counties.
After the meeting, a flock of FFA officers surrounded Cook with questions on joining the Virginia Farm Bureau, as well as how they could get involved in the educational movement.
"This is so exciting," Cook said, smiling. "I could see it in their eyes ... these students are ready to make a difference."
For more information on the state and local chapters of the Farm Bureau, go to www.vafarmbureau.org.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or email@example.com