Encouraging support for agriculture

Published 8:40 pm Monday, August 6, 2012

It might not be the kind of thing that’s obvious to the casual observer, but the nature of farming is changing around the nation, and Virginia’s agriculture community reflects the trend. The number of farms continues to fall in Virginia, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, and the size of the remaining farms continues to rise as operators — whether corporate or family farmers — buy out their retiring colleagues.

Perhaps most alarming for people in the agriculture business is the fact that the age of the average farmer is high and rising. In Virginia, according to the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture, the average farmer was 58 years old. That means fewer farmers than, perhaps, ever in our nation’s long agricultural history are passing along their love of cultivating the land to the next generation.

All kinds of problems will result from a generation without that connection. People who have not been taught about the importance of farming — and about its challenges — will have no concept, for example, of the consequences of unbridled environmentalism. Such folks could easily wind up legislating away the ability to produce food nearby at a reasonable price.

Email newsletter signup

People like Isle of Wight’s Delores “Dee Dee” Darden, however, are doing everything they can to ensure that such scenarios never become reality in Virginia. Darden recently was named America’s Farm Mom of the Year 2012 for the Southeast during the Virginia Ag Expo. She earned a $5,000 check from Monsanto for the honor, which celebrated her “dedication to her family and her farm, and in reaching consumers in her community and well beyond,” according to a press release from Monsanto.

The Darden family owns Darden’s Country Store, but Delores and her husband Tommy also grow peanuts, cotton, wheat, corn, soybeans and pumpkins on their family farm, and they raise beef cattle and cure and sell more than 1,000 hams a year.

Perhaps most important in the long term, however, is Delores Darden’s concern for the next generation. Each year, she hosts 1,500 school-age children and their parents at the farm, where she organizes hay rides and pumpkin picking and teaches a lesson on how food gets from the farm to the fork. That lesson is a valuable part of the strategy to ensure a new generation of people who are at least farm friendly, if not actual farmers.

Darden deserves congratulations for her award. In this time of change for agriculture, people who work to increase support for it need all the encouragement we can give.