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August 1, 2017

Fauquier Education Farm quickly growing larger

Hundreds of people volunteer at the farm, founded in 2010 on county property just east of Warrenton.
It seems like every year we’re stepping up the bar a little bit further, and I’m asking more of the community. And the community is stepping up to do it.
— Jim Hankins, Fauquier Education Farm executive director
Fauquier Education Farm
• What: Nonprofit organization providing instruction that includes a beginning farmer program, demonstrates best practices and grows produce to support local food banks.

• Where: 8428 Meetze Rd., just east of Warrenton.

• Executive director: Jim Hankins, the nonprofit’s only employee.

• Established: 2010.

• Size: 10 acres of the county-owned, 197-acre property.

• Fiscal 2018 budget: $108,255.

• Phone: 540-336-4338.

• Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

• Website: Click here.

• Facebook: Click here.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The Fauquier Education Farm this summer has donated more than 50,000 pounds of produce to area food banks — far outpacing the previous year’s total.

Founded in 2010, the nonprofit operation just east of Warrenton reached that milestone Wednesday morning, when Executive Director Jim Hankins drove a pickup truck loaded with 378 pounds of watermelons, honeydews and squash to the Fauquier Community Food Bank and Thrift Store.

That delivery boosted the amount to a record 50,188 pounds — with more to come.

“We still have a good crop of sweet potatoes, and we’re still getting tomatoes and peppers like crazy,” Mr. Hankins said of the 10-acre site, a portion of the county-owned Stafford tract along Meetze Road that the organization leases for $1 per year.

Last year, the farm gave 34,715 pounds of produce to area food banks, Mr. Hankins said.

He attributes this year’s 46-percent spike in crop production to a “stable, regular” core of about 60 volunteers and better farming techniques.

“It’s all about building our volunteer base and applying lessons that we’ve learned along the way,” said Mr. Hankins, who has work as a commercial orchard manager and as a furniture maker. “It’s as a simple as that.

“We, in our past, far too often put stuff in the ground and hoped for the best.”

The PATH Foundation and other donors have provided funding for major farm improvements, including a hoop house, a new water system and a building for programs.

When Mr. Hankins joined the nonprofit organization in 2014 as part-time coordinator, the farm had 10 to 15 reliable volunteers and produced about 15,000 pounds of vegetables, he said.

“And that was as good as the farm had ever done.”

To realize its potential, the farm needed a full-time person to oversee it, the organization’s nine-member board concluded.

So, in 2015, it hired Mr. Hankins as the education farm’s first executive director. At that point, he quit his other part-time job as an agriculture management agent with the Virginia State University Small Farms Outreach Program. 

Education farm volunteers this year planted more than 60 varieties of vegetables, including 15 kinds of tomatoes and five kinds of cabbage, he said.

Planting different types of the same vegetable can extend the season for that crop, determine “which work and which don’t,” ultimately allowing more efficient and productive use of the land, said Mr. Hankins.

For example, among the tomato varieties planted this year, three ripened at different times of the year, the 57-year-old Culpeper County resident said.

“We have tomatoes coming into production now,” explained Mr. Hankins, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University and a master’s in sculpture from Ohio University.

Of the five cabbage varieties planted, “three of those were losers,” he said. “We’ll plant the two other varieties next year and get a substantial yield.”

Besides supplying food banks with produce, the education farm provides instruction that includes a beginning farmer program and demonstrates best practices.

Mr. Hankins leads the farm’s classroom instruction and best-method demonstrations, writes grant proposals and handles planning and public relations for the organization.

This year, the farm offered 11 free workshops, including topics such as “3D Deer Fencing,” “Uncracking the Secret of Eggplant” and “The Colorful World of Cauliflower.”

A total of about 150 people attended those workshops, Mr. Hankins said.

“There’s a lot of interest in growing your own food now, and maybe doing it as a sideline, or as a business,” education farm board President Ben Cooper. “The (farm) is a terrific public/private partnership. It has a lot of promise and different areas.”

Board Vice President Michele Mitchell marvels at the organization’s recent successes under Mr. Hankins’ guidance.

“It’s just hard to imagine that just a few years ago it was 15,000 pounds of vegetables given to area food banks,” Ms. Mitchell said. “And now it’s over 50,000 pounds. The need is out there both for the programs and for the food.”

The kick-off workshop, “It’s Time to Start Planning,” in January at the visitor center drew more than 100 people, exceeding the building’s capacity, she recalled.

For the last two years, the organization’s annual fundraiser — “Feast from the Field” — has sold out, Ms. Mitchell said.

Together, those events generated $57,364.

“The more people know about the farm, what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and giving back to the community, the more people want to get involved,” Ms. Mitchell said. “So it’s really taking off.”

The farm’s fiscal 2018 budget stands at $108,255 — the first time it has hit six figures.

Individual donations account for about 70 percent of the farm’s revenue, with the rest coming mostly from foundations.

“It seems like every year we’re stepping up the bar a little bit further, and I’m asking more of the community,” Mr. Hankins said. “And the community is stepping up to do it.”
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