Farmers diversify and expand with value-added agriculture

Published 3:59 pm Thursday, July 21, 2022

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Consumers increasingly demand locally produced agricultural products, and farmers are in a better position to fulfill that need with a little help from friends at the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability.

Whether expanding from a farm stand to a farm store, or direct-marketing locally grown and processed meats, the nonprofit cooperative development service offers technical assistance for value-added agriculture projects.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services saw a few of these projects firsthand at the Virginia Fairs annual meeting and tour in coastal Virginia this June. In a value-added show-and-tell, clients discussed how Virginia Fairs’ resources helped them become more competitive in applying for financing and grants needed to expand their operations.

Agricultural producers can access new markets with Virginia Fairs staff assisting with grant applications, feasibility studies, strategic planning and more. Farmers shared their experiences on the four-stop tour.

Kerry Messer grows lavender at Sweethaven Lavender in James City County. A value-added producer grant helped the farm expand into a venue and retail space showcasing its unique handcrafted products.

The Vaughn family direct-markets beef from their Hereford herd at Coastal Cattle in Virginia Beach. They outgrew their sales “shed” and recently expanded into a spacious retail store called “The Meat Shack.”

Cullipher Farm Market in Pungo once sold its produce wholesale. The operation has since grown into a bustling farm attraction, offering U-pick, a play area and a farm market selling local produce, seafood, meats and value-added products like canned and baked goods and ice cream.

“If you can get a higher-value product out of what you’re already growing — it’s exponentially a gain,” said sixth-generation farmer Mike Cullipher.

Kim and Meagan Pugh at Summerwind Vineyard in Isle of Wight County poured samples of popular red and white blends and explained how they expanded the business with VA FAIRS’ support.

So far in 2022, VA FAIRS has helped producers apply for more than $23.95 million in funding.

“We’re the best-kept secret in agriculture in Virginia,” said Wilmer Stoneman, VA FAIRS executive director. “But I want to be the most well-known service in Virginia.”

To learn more about Virginia Fairs services, visit or call (804) 290- 1155.