Promoting Rural and Economic Development
Given the importance of agriculture and forestry to the foundation of our economy, my team and I are committed to supporting the continued development of these industries as a both a growth engine and source of jobs throughout rural Virginia. We are dedicated to supporting the key functions of our agencies, such as inspecting and grading services and online permitting, to ensure seamless processes that create a growth-friendly environment and continued global competitiveness.
Furthermore, we are focused on growing our existing businesses and attracting new investment through the VDACS and VDOF market development programs. The Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund is a key tool for spurring growth and investment.
We will continue to develop export opportunities for Virginia agriculture and forest products via our established network of trade offices around the globe, expert staff to offer marketing and regulatory assistance, and strategic trade missions to key markets with the Governor, department staff, and federal partners.
Supporting the expansion of broadband access is also a key initiative for Governor Northam and is an important driver of success of our rural economy. Farmers and agribusinesses depend on fast, reliable internet to conduct business in the 21st century global market and to make use of new agronomic tools, such as unmanned aerial vehicles and precision agriculture technology. We will be working with key partners throughout the Administration, such as the Secretary of Commerce and Trade and the Chief Broadband Advisor, to meet Governor Northam’s goal of ensuring all Virginians have access to broadband within the next decade.
Finally, we are excited about the prospects for economic development in areas such as agritourism, craft beverages, and aquaculture, and we will work with partners within Virginia Tourism, Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), and the Secretariat of Natural Resources to support this growth. Furthermore, with the scheduled reopening of Colonial Downs this summer and new opportunities for thoroughbred racing in Virginia, we are excited to play a role in the growth of the equine industry, which has a long history and reputation of excellence in the Commonwealth.
Forest and Farmland Retention
Virginia is home to over 23 million acres of farm and forestland, and we are proud to support the preservation of these natural resources. Farms and working forests are the foundation of Virginia’s rural economy, and our land conservation efforts benefit landowners, local communities, and the environment.
Governor Northam has a bold vision of using a data-driven approach to identify the highest priority lands for conservation, including working farmland and forestland, and we are excited to play a part in this important goal. We want to ensure that landowners continue to have a large toolbox and many options at their disposal for land conservation.
As the next generation seeks to return to family businesses, one of the greatest challenges facing private landowners is intergenerational transfer. We are committed to providing transition and business planning resources, such as the successful Generation NEXT program, to farmers and forest landowners to ensure economic viability and the successful transfer from the current generation to the next one. And our Century Farms and Century Forests programs help recognize those families who are committed to preserving and working these landscapes.
A component of this viability is the continued health and productivity of the Commonwealth’s forests. While continuing to support our effective pine Reforestation of Timberlands (RT) program, we are also seeking to create a first-of-its-kind hardwood enhancement incentive program. While we have already made great strides in forest management, these initiatives will guarantee productive working forests for many generations to come.
Finally, aside from being an important economic engine, the Chesapeake Bay is one of the world’s greatest natural treasures, and agriculture and forestry have an important role to play in its health. Through the dedication of landowners and other partners, such as local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, these industries have already made major strides in meeting our goals, but our work is ongoing. Through our healthy watershed program, we are working to secure private sector investment to reduce runoff and improve the overall wellbeing of the entire Bay watershed. And we are working closely with the Secretariat of Natural Resources and our stakeholders in the agriculture and forestry industries in the development of the third phase Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP3) of the Bay’s total maximum daily load (TMDL).
Governor Northam has made one the Administration’s top priorities giving every person, particularly every child, the same shot at a healthy, safe and successful life. To grow, learn, and succeed, it is critical for Virginians to have access to nutritious, safe, affordable foods. 10 percent of Virginia households were food insecure at least some time during the past year, meaning they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members
Our goal is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
We believe that the food and agriculture sector offers key solutions for increasing access to nutritious foods and is a central component for eliminating hunger in Virginia. During the Northam Administration, our efforts to address hunger and food security will include investments in strategies to provide children and families with three meals a day, 365 days a year and to strengthen the connection from farm to fork.
As we focus on agriculture as a vehicle for addressing food insecurity, there is a need for new, innovative strategies to grow community food access. Expanding market opportunities for farmers through farmers' markets, farm to school programs, and urban agriculture directly correlate to higher levels of food access in communities.
In collaboration with the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet, we will focus on building partnerships with community food access organizations, expanding access and participation in federal nutrition assistance programs, and seeking solutions to food insecurity through local agriculture initiatives. Using a cross-secretariat approach, we will collaborate on efforts to expand access to healthy foods and meals through school nutrition and summer feeding programs. Additionally, we will focus on addressing food deserts through healthy food retail, farmers' markets, corner stores, mobile markets, and other initiatives.