Virginia Cooperative Extension, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, and the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University are working together to improve food security and combat hunger across the commonwealth by addressing the many causes brought to the forefront over the last few years.

The commonwealth’s two land-grant institutions partnered to study the food value chain in the state to enhance food-system resilience and address systemic food insecurity. The results of the research enabled the multi-institutional team to:

  • Develop and formalize an internal integrated multi-disciplinary food system planning approach across the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech and Extension program teams.
  • Build capacity for coordination, cooperation and collaboration across the land-grant universities to affect greater resilience within the food system and communities.

“If there isn’t collaboration, coordination, and communication among faculty members or colleges, then the ability to respond in a quick and comprehensive way is limited,” said Eric Bendfeldt, an Extension specialist with Virginia Tech’s School of Plant and Environmental Sciences. “We wanted to connect the dots and put the pieces of the puzzle of Virginia's food system together.”

By improving coordination and communication across the commonwealth, Extension, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, and College of Agriculture at Virginia State University intend to aggregate and improve the distribution of food to areas that continue to experience dips in production and delays in food processing that can limit access and availability.

In addition to Bendfeldt, the research team included:

  • Jayesh Samtani, assistant professor and small fruit Extension specialist at the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
  • E. French Price, Extension Value Chain coordinator.
  • Kim Niewolny, professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership and Community Education.
  • Marcus Comer, associate professor at Virginia State University, and former Extension specialist in the Petersburg, Virginia area.
  • Becky Gartner, Extension agent in Rockingham County.
  • Mizuho Nita, assistant professor and Extension specialist at the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center
  • Thomas Bolles, Extension agent in Prince William County
  • Andrea Wann, Extension agent in Washington County
  • Roy Flanagan, Extension agent in Virginia Beach
  • Kenner Love, Extension agent in Rappahannock County
  • Jeanell Smith, Family & Consumer Sciences SNAP-Ed agent in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Virginians are served best and Virginia Cooperative Extension functions optimally when institutions and communities come to the table to discuss issues. The Petersburg forum included community members who are combatting food insecurity and food access.

“Extension brings communities together. By partnering, we ensure that every voice is heard within the communities we serve across the state,” Comer said. “In addition to gathering information, these community organizations, which are doing similar work, were able to network.” 

By understanding the distinct needs of each city and county across the commonwealth, targeted plans of actions can be formulated.

 “This project was an opportunity for all of us to come together and be better prepared to help Virginians tackle some of the big problems of our day and age,” Niewolny said.

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