VALOR, Virginia’s premier agricultural leadership training program, celebrated the graduation of its fifth class, Class V, of leadership fellows at Early Mountain Vineyard in Madison, Virginia, on July 15. VALOR also welcomed its sixth class, Cohort VI, of fellows.

The graduates are Susan Belford, Ryan Clouse, John Fant, Amy Johnson, Alison Jones, Sarah Morton, Katie Reames, Sarah Jane Thomsen, Ryan Trusner, and Candice Wilson.

Throughout the program, which is housed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, Class V visited regional industry sites and engaged with industry leaders. The experience culminated with a graduation celebration and the biennial alumni welcome event at Graves Mountain Lodge, where many of the participants reflected on the knowledge they gained.

“The fellows, business owners, and VALOR supporters represent the lifeblood of agriculture. The character and integrity of these individuals are second to none. VALOR V fellows entered the program at the height of COVID.  The commitment and resiliency of these fellows to adapt to the changed world ways is a testament to the importance of the program,” said recent VALOR graduate Ryan Clouse, a loan officer with Horizon Farm Credit.

The Class V cohort significantly contributes to the diversity of agricultural leaders. Fellows range from livestock and Christmas tree producers to health care, grain marketing, animal nutrition, agricultural education, and workforce specialists. In addition, the cohort includes elected officials, organization officers, and industry advocates – each bringing a different background and interpretation of agriculture, related industry, and community need.

“This graduating class was selected because of their dedication to developing themselves and impacting others during a pandemic,” said Megan Seibel, VALOR director. “The new experiences we collectively discovered proved advantageous to both the program and the agriculture industry we love.”

Cohort VI will commence in September for its two-year series of experiential travel, leadership discourse, and networking designed to prepare class members to undertake leadership roles facilitating community problem-solving and promoting Virginia agriculture – communicating its realities, vigor, and needs – in forums inside and outside the industry.

The incoming class includes Jennifer Armstrong of Rockingham, Virginia; Paul Boulden Jr. of Ashland, Virginia; Glenn Dye of Appomattox, Virginia; Adam Ford of Staunton, Virginia; Clay Greene of Weyers Cave, Virginia; Austin Large of Springfield, Virginia; Adam McKenery of Romney, West Virginia; Alicia Morris of Pembroke, Virginia; Michelle Smelser of Page, Virginia; Sarah Williams of Bristol, Virginia; and Lyndsie Young of Independence, Virginia.

VALOR is one of about 40 agricultural leadership programs active in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Culturally appropriate, agricultural leadership programs use a research-based experiential learning approach that builds professional leadership skills in the context of agriculture. Each fellow has met every other month for two years to train, network, and travel throughout Virginia’s distinct agricultural regions.

Each class travels to another state in the U.S. and an international experience crowns each VALOR program cycle by placing Virginia agriculture in the context of world trade, cooperation, and global connectivity. This spring, the class went to Peru, with previous cohorts to Argentina, Vietnam, South Africa, and Denmark.

Seminars are a hybrid of content from previous years and new experiences unique to each class. The collective group of current and past VALOR fellows has a broader knowledge of the great diversity and impact represented by the many facets of Virginia agriculture.

“The passion of my cohort and our hosts has been inspiring as Class V navigated Virginian, Louisianan, and Peruvian agriculture,” said Candice Wilson, graduating fellow and grain merchandiser at Old Dominion Grain. “To be successful and drive change, we need to get out of our comfort zone. VALOR has challenged me professionally and personally in each session. The relationship with my cohort has been critical in my growth as we each continue to challenge the status quo. We have each other to call on to bounce ideas off and for support in our next post-VALOR phase.”

Agriculture and forestry are Virginia’s largest private industries, employing nearly 450,000 farmers and workers with a $91 billion impact, annually, supporting biological and cultural diversity, and protecting water and soil quality. In an increasingly crowded, urban world, VALOR graduates are trained to communicate and promote agriculture and the communities and industries that surround it.

Course-based learning and hands-on experience throughout the state prepares fellows to lead their communities in civic discourse and decision-making, guiding and engaging others in community action and problem-solving. VALOR is open to anyone interested in promoting agriculture through decision-making, problem-solving, influencing policy development, and leveraging advanced interpersonal skills.

Responding to the need to support these industries, support for VALOR comes from organizations like the Farm Credit of the Virginias and the Virginia Farm Bureau, small businesses, foundations, and generous individuals.

More information can be found on its webpage or by emailing with  questions.

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