Fighting to Save the Family Farm

Lovettsville’s Chris Van Vlack

Lovettsville’s Chris Van Vlack

Lovettsville’s Chris Van Vlack, the President of the Farm Bureau, and the Urban/Ag Conservationist for the Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District, has been fighting to save Loudoun County Farming from shrinking any more than it already has.

The way to do so, Chris says, is an agriculture task force that goes beyond Loudoun’s concerns and cooperates with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).




Map showing the breadth of COG in the region

Map showing the breadth of COG in the region

Last Thursday, those interested in such a task force, and its projected plan, gathered at the County Government Center in Leesburg, VA, with Chris Van Vlack, elected and appointed Members of the Loudoun County Soil and Water Conservation District, Council Member Jon Stehle, from the City of Fairfax, Lindsay Smith, a COG consultant, staff from BOS Chair Phyllis J. Randall, and more interested parties who weighed in.

The goal was to maintain farmland throughout the region at 500,000 acres but by 2017, the goal had already slipped, as farmland acreage was short of that objective, at 480,281 acres.

COG land in farms

A summary of the Counties shows the decline in farms in every county in COG (Table 4 from the Report, “What Our Region Grows.)”




COG table

Some may not appreciate the extent of the economy that’s at issue.

Virginia, for its COG localities, is talking about $2.23 billion in agriculture and forestry.

Chris has long been involved in initiatives that help resist the decline in farmers, farms, and land in farms.

Among the worthwhile approaches Chris supports are any and all efforts to improve the water holding capacity of soils, to reduce GHG (green house gas) emissions, and to improve resistance to weeds and to pests.

The Task Force would have as its objective ongoing regional planning and coordination – that doesn’t now exist – compromising the worthwhile objectives that all interested parties support, but especially the effort to inform one and all, and to seek proposals that could make a difference.

There was a critical report that underscored what needs to be done, titled, “What Our Region Grows,” and it was submitted to the Chesapeake Bay Policy and Water Resources Committee in March 2019.

COG loudoun

The year since the Report issues only suggests a shrinking in all the best categories.

The report broke out by all the Counties found within COG gave us a profile of the sales and economic impact experienced by each County.

Loudoun has more than $37.1 Million in AG sales and an economic impact of $751 million.

This is a serious business.

But who tends to the farms?

The boomers are outpacing the millennials in farm participation; that begs the question what may the future hold for farms?

As for who is doing the farming, and has been doing it, the racial component is almost entirely dominated by persons who are white (96.9 % in 2012) for there is only a small fraction of persons of color (1.6% in 2012) engaged in farming in the COG Region, and that’s been the case for years.

COG population

The task force argued for a commission with elected officials and experts in local food and agriculture, that are able to inform and to provide ad hoc technical assistance to COG Member jurisdictions.

Unspoken at the meeting or any of the reports is the sleeping giant – what are we doing to rein in that development that’s consuming our farm land?

No small problem.

Perhaps that will be added to the Commission’s to-do list.