Over the past few days, the Elston Inn and Conference Center has been the hub of important discussions around topics that relate to one aspect of Sweet Briar College’s vision. The Virginia Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources selected the College at the host for their annual fall retreat. The comfort of the Elston Inn, combined with the spacious conference facilities and opportunity to enjoy the beautiful campus during the peak fall colors left a distinct impression on the members of the committee, who already are eager to return for another retreat.
Senator Chap Petersen, committee chair and member of the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors, led the multi-day event with fellow members of the committee Barbara Favola, Emmett Hanger, Ghazala Hashmi, Lynwood Lewis, Monty Mason, Dave Marsden, Jennifer McClellan, Joseph Morrissey, Mark Obenshain, Todd Pillion, Frank Ruff, Bill Stanley, Richard Stuart and David Suetterlein.
“This whole idea of sustainability and stewardship—a re-gathering of our resources—is one of the reasons I wanted to do the retreat at Sweet Briar,” said Senator Petersen. “I love the program that you have focusing on agriculture, focusing on agri-sciences. That’s what we’re trying to do in our committee. We’re trying to create a sustainable model for agriculture in Virginia.”
The retreat focused on three areas: state parks, Chesapeake Bay and the rural economy. The list of panelists was impressive, and marked a unique opportunity to showcase Sweet Briar’s agricultural operations and environmental science curriculum to these experts in their field. Panelists represented the Chesapeake Bay Commission, Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience, National Federation of Independent Business, University of Virginia, Virginia Association of Soil and Water Districts, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Virginia Outdoors Foundation, Virginia Rural Center and Virginia Tech.
The event was indeed a perfect match for Sweet Briar with its heightened focus on stewardship of our natural environment. Several years ago, the College crafted a vision for the land anchored in environmental stewardship as a defining feature of the campus and curricular experience—and augmented with opportunities to diversify its revenue sources through agricultural production. Since that defining and decisive moment, the College has steadily been bringing that vision to fruition through the development of our wildflower pollinator habitat in partnership with the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation, the Brown Family Apiary, 18 acres of vineyards, a 26,000-sq.-ft. greenhouse and a hands-on environmental science and leadership curriculum.
When asked where leadership opportunities lie within agriculture, conservation and natural resources, Senator Petersen stated the importance of the individual and his or her direct impact. As an example, he said, “It comes down to individual farmers saying, ‘I’m going to fence the stream. I’m going to plant a cover crop. I’m going to create a riparian buffer.’ The state can mandate, but it takes individual business owners, individual farmers to actually make that happen, and they have to have a sense of responsibility.”
“When I look at Sweet Briar and the programs you are building,” observed Senator Petersen, “it’s creating this idea that by taking care of the environment, we’re taking care of each other. And that’s a great concept.”