AMHERST--Creative, sustainable and productive engagement in agriculture was the main topic of discussion for Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at Sweet Briar College on Friday afternoon.

Warner and Perdue visited on the college’s Founders’ Day to hear from local agriculture officials and community members about developments in Central Virginia.

The two also toured Sweet Briar’s vineyard, which was planted this spring, saw the newly installed apiary, and held a ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the college’s greenhouse, which still is under construction.

At a roundtable discussion with about 25 members of Central Virginia’s agriculture community, Warner and Perdue emphasized the importance of women in promoting growth in farming.

“I am just enthused, excited and intrigued by your vision you have here,” Perdue said to Sweet Briar faculty.

The number of female agriculture producers increased 18% from 2012 to 2017 in Virginia, according to the most recent data from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Annika Kuleba, a sophomore at Sweet Briar studying environmental science, said she grew up on a family farm and wants to continue learning about sustainable agriculture.

Kuleba said she started beekeeping at Sweet Briar’s new apiary as soon as the college built the hives. Each person at Friday’s roundtable received a jar of honey harvested from Sweet Briar’s hives.

“I just dove right in and got started working,” she said. “We need [bees]. We need them to eat our food every single day.”

Sweet Briar President Meredith Woo, who has led the college since 2017, said it aims to “use the land to enrich the curriculum.”

Sweet Briar, a women’s-only private liberal arts college, has not always had an agricultural focus. The school recently opened a center for sustainability and wants to blend disciplines so students can learn about topics like artisanal farming.

“Is this a college with a farm, or a farm with a college on it?” Woo asked during the roundtable discussion, pointing out Sweet Briar is both, and the college and farm equally affect one another.

Friday’s event came at the end of National Farm Safety and Health Week, and Perdue said the desire for transparency in farming is growing. Perdue praised Sweet Briar’s vision to produce and consume sustainable agriculture.

“We guys sometimes get stuck in our ways,” Perdue said. “Women have been the untold story.”


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Olivia Johnson covers the city of Lynchburg for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5537.

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