Although Grower Members come from a wide variety of backgrounds, being skilled in agriculture (3-5 years or more of farming experience) or a comparable education is a typical commonality. Farming is hard work and this program is no exception. We ask our farmers to take the time to further their own agricultural/botanical education and keep their eyes, ears and heart open to the plants and the land that sustains them.
With our present funding, the AHGC is required to serve within the historical range of VA Tobacco counties. Within this region, we have chosen to keep the majority of our participating farms within 1.5 hours of the BRCCM campus. As our project expands, we hope to serve farms outside this radius.
All AHGC Grower Members are required to implement ecologically sound growing methods. At a minimum, Growers must agree to avoid all use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
Our working definition of Ecologically Grown contains a set of practices that fall within the same sustainable agriculture techniques as other legally defined practices such as USDA Organic, Certified Naturally Grown and PCO Forest Grown Verified. All of our farms follow these ecological practices, Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) as established by the USDA, and some are even able to afford individual certifications. As the AHGC Program progresses, AHGC staff and farmers continue to explore certification opportunities including Certified Organic, Certified Naturally Grown and Demeter Biodynamic Certification.
Although obtaining any of the above certifications is not a current requirement for our farms, group certification opportunities may help reduce the cost associated with these certifications while ensuring that we receive the greatest possible return for our collective efforts towards sustainable agriculture. We hope to be able to offer such opportunities as the program grows.
In addition, we intend to practice the art of Perennial Polyculture as much as possible. Perennial Polyculture is a specific cultivation technique intended to simulate some of the natural relationships between plants found in the wild. At its simplest, plots designed for Perennial Polyculture will contain a variety of plant species, exhibiting different heights or structures, intended to form a guild of supporting plants that attract insects, accumulate nutrients and maximize soil biodiversity.
Perennial polyculture can be a challenge for our small diversified farms, which have depended on annual vegetable cropping and animal husbandry for their main income. Through the AHGC, farmers have the support of a group of farmers learning to practice the same methods together, a source for reliable seed and plants, on-site consultations, potential help with harvests and post-harvest handling, and virtually guaranteed sales through our established national herb-buying consortium. With this support network, our participating farmers can focus on what they do best: farming!