Producers strive to provide healthful foods for communities

RICHMOND—Given the opportunity to share information, small-scale meat, dairy, poultry and egg producers turned out in force Feb. 26 for Virginia’s 2013 Local Foods Network Conference.

The event was held at Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s headquarters in Goochland County. Its theme was “Building Your Business Safely.”

Producers addressed a variety of topics and issues in a panel discussion, from product traceback, meat transportation and where to go for kosher processing to a start-up question prefaced with “I started raising chickens as a hobby, and it’s gotten out of control.”

Panelist David Fitzgerald, who began raising honeybees and poultry in Goochland County after retiring from a career in law enforcement, said quality and safety are paramount for successful direct marketing. He noted that his own family gets their meals from the same freezer in which he stores meat he sells.

“If I wouldn’t give it to them, I wouldn’t sell it to you,” he said.

In addition to being careful about his products, Fitzgerald is careful about his property, which people visit to buy food and to use or borrow his processing equipment. He meets twice a year with his insurance agent, he said. “We start at one gate and walk to the other gate, and we tell them everything we do and how we do it.”

Donnie Montgomery, an owner of Homestead Creamery outside of Roanoke, said his family went from dairy farming to selling local milk, butter and ice cream and ultimately focused on premium ice creams and home milk deliveries. “Whatever we made, we had to taste,” he said of their commitment to quality control.

Renard Turner, who operates Vanguard Ranch Ltd. in Louisa County, recounted how he and his wife determined over time that meat goats and organic vegetables were optimal products for their land. Turner retired from a health-related career and said he is determined to offer healthful foods. Part of that is being mindful of regulations and ready for inspections.

“It really means that you have to step up and have all the right answers when they knock on your door,” he said. “There’s no wiggle room.”

Contact Pam Wiley, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1128.

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