Volunteer Farm enjoys solid growth in 2014

The Volunteer Farm in Woodstock had a better season last year than it has in other years, but CEO Bob Blair said it can do better.

“It’s a little above average,” he said. “It wasn’t a great year, but it wasn’t a bad year either. … It was much better than last year.”

In a report card that the non-profit organization emailed to volunteers and others this week, he praised volunteer efforts with A or A+ grades, while scoring the season’s harvest with a B.

“That goes because we’re never content with growing enough food,” Blair said.

During the last decade, the need for nutritious food in the Volunteer Farm’s coverage area has tripled, from about 50,000 hungry individuals to 150,000.

In addition to providing produce to the Lord Fairfax Area Food Bank, the Volunteer Farm, under parent organization World Foundation for Children, supplies the Northern Virginia portion of the Capital Area Food Bank, which also covers Washington, D.C.

“We’re serving about a third of the state, and that’s where our frustration is. There’s so many hungry people in that area,” Blair said.

The farm doesn’t supply full meals, but aims to supplement food that area banks provide to families.

Addressing a need to distribute more nutritious options, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, serving the Shenandoah Valley region from its home office in Verona, recently announced its intention to provide greater amounts of healthy food through the expansion of its main distribution center.

A larger distribution center will include a produce cooler capable of storing 72,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables at one time.

By comparison, the Volunteer Farm harvested nearly 46,000 pounds of produce in 2014. In its best year, 2012, the Volunteer Farm harvested 165,532 pounds.

Farming by nature is an unpredictable effort, and Blair said there are too many contributing factors for him to say how this year’s crop might turn out.

“Farming is an up-and-down thing. It’s like rolling craps every year,” he said.

“Last year we had a very wet spring that made it impossible to plant early, but we were still able to do a pretty good production,” he said.

Assuming the weather cooperates, he plans to begin planting in February and add a half acre of asparagus and 200 apple trees in February to other fruit trees he said should begin bearing pears, peaches, plums and apples next year.

Blair also hopes for an uptick in volunteers who over the years have traveled from 42 states and 28 countries to help farm food for Virginia families.

He’s most impressed when children work the farm with their families, gaining life skills and crucial bonding time with their parents.

“They’re wonderful. It’s a real blessing to see these kids coming in and learn about farming,” he said — “the difference between a potato and a rock, [and] what hard work is.”

In addition to encouraging support of more volunteers, Blair hopes to increase donations to pay for more crops as well as attract college interns and an assistant farm manager for its 65 acres at 277 Crider Lane, Woodstock.

Internships will most benefit those pursing careers in agriculture, he said.

“We’ve been having one every semester, and we have a new one starting next Monday,” he said. “But I’d love to find an intern, for example, that could work with these fruit trees. We’ve been working hard to find them, but we’ve just been striking out.”

“We feel that’s good for them and it’s good for us,” he said. “A college intern is still learning, and I think the process of working on the Volunteer Farm for three or four months really helps them when they go back to class. The book learning has a little more meaning.”

Contact the Volunteer Farm at 540-459-3478, by visiting http://www.worldfoundationforchildren.com or searching “Volunteer Farms” on Facebook.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com