Virginia State University Cooperative Extension Specialists are looking for Southside Virginia farmers, especially those who formerly raised tobacco, who are interested in trying their hand at growing blackberries, blueberries or strawberries. Extension specialists believe the region has potential for satisfying the high demand for locally-grown berries.
“Locally-grown produce, especially berries, which are known to have significant health benefits, have experienced a sharp increase in consumer demand,” explained Dr. Raza Rafie, VSU horticulture extension specialist. “We’ve done extensive research throughout central and southside Virginia, and we feel confident that the growing conditions are right for local farmers to help meet this demand.”
Identifying and assisting the new potential berry growers is part of a three-year Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission grant-funded project to promote berry crops as an alternative farm enterprise in the region. The $292,930 grant is the second phase to the successful $300,000 grant from the Commission in January 2011.
This second phase of the project will identify a total of 13 farmers who will each receive an acre of either blackberry, blueberry or strawberry plants (depending on the conditions of his/her farm), mulch, drip irrigation lines, a trellis system (for blackberry crop only), a temporary spreader, technical assistance and management information. The duration of this grant project is three years. During that time project team members will provide educational assistance to each farmer in growing and marketing his/her berry crop.
To apply, farmers can obtain an application from their local agriculture and natural resource Cooperative Extension agent. A list of agents is available at http://www.ext.vt.edu/offices. For more information on the project farmers can also contact Jonathan Bobby at 434-9418471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications are due Thursday, July 30, 2016.