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New agriculture school to teach Loudoun’s future farmers

FARMERS BLAHAgribusiness stakeholders celebrate the launch of Loudoun’s New Ag School at Fabbioli Callers June 5. Times-Mirror/Amelia Heymann
Education is the foundation for the future. So how stable is the future of Loudoun's farms if future farmers don't have the proper training?

Enter Loudoun’s New Ag School.

Formally known as the Piedmont Educational Agriculture Center, Loudoun’s New Ag School (NAS) formally launched this week at Fabbioli Cellars just north of Leesburg. The school was awarded a grant of $9,000 by 100Women Strong, a philanthropic organization that pledges grants to help the Loudoun community.

The goal of NAS is to train a workforce to continue and grow the agribusiness of Loudoun County. From running a farm or winery to hosting a successful bed and breakfast, NAS aims to offer an alternative education route to those seeking careers in these fields.

“We’re teaching people you don’t have to sit at a computer screen all day and make a profit,” said Doug Fabbioli, NAS board member and owner of Fabbioli Cellars. “We need to train a workforce of all ages and talents who understand our various growing, harvest and tourism seasons and are specifically trained to support agribusiness, from horticulture to management to sales.”

NAS is a certificate program where students work under mentors to learn hands on what it takes to run an agricultural business. Students of the program follow a handbook to help steer their learning. The handbook is made up of five sections; cleaning and sanitation, horticulture, farm equipment, hospitality and leadership and entrepreneurship. While the book guides student’s education, it doesn’t completely dictate it.

“Modules are more generally based,” said Meaghan Tardif, a mentor in the NAS and employee at Fabbioli. “If you’re learning about wine making, sanitation will be a bigger project.”

The program is geared toward retirees, veterans, transplants and youth.

“We recognize that a lot of our workforce has not grown up here,” Fabbioli said.

Within a week Fabbioli plans to have the module work books in Spanish along with the original English offering.

One mentee the program has already helped is Alex Bates. Bates finished the prototype program last year, and he now works at the Loudoun Berry Farm and Garden where he raises chickens and eggs to sell. The farm he works at is all organic non-GMO.

“All sectors of agriculture are good for Loudoun County. In addition to the industry's net positive to the county's tax base, it boasts an economic impact that exceeds $800 Million,” said Kellie Hinkle, NAS board member and agriculture development officer for Loudoun County Department of Economic Development.

As new vines grow fresh grapes, the program will help grow new farmers, with knowledge passing down from mentors to mentees.

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @heymannamelia.


Farming in Loudoun is a dying industry. Land is “EXPENSIVE”, which pretty much locks out new farmers and makes existing farmers have to charge much higher prices to pay their costs from crop/livestock yields. That makes them uncompetitive in the market and only adds pressure for them to get out of the farming business. Not to mention that year to year, you never know what your crop yields will be or the market price for your goods.

Land prices are the real headwind for Loudoun Farming to ever remain profitable. Most farms will eventually be sold to developers to feed Loudoun’s ever growing population and non-farming industries. If somebody really wants to be a farmer, Loudoun County is not the ideal location unless you get lucky with a unique contract to supply upscale restaurants or establish a cult following for a winery.

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