By Sally Voth
The Volunteer Farm's new manager needed the farm as much as it needed him.
Page County native J.C. Fox and his wife had been out of work for two years when he was hired by the Volunteer Farm in March. Both have had health problems.
"I just had gotten better and [was] just taking my time letting God heal me," Fox said. "Now, I'm better.
"Our finances was getting down to nothing, and we have children and everything. We needed means to help provide for the family."
And, the Volunteer Farm needed someone to run its farm operations. The farm, part of the World Foundation for Children, had been in financial distress, coming close to shutting down at the end of 2012.
Instead, donations poured in, and the foundation's board of directors voted to shut down its sister operation in Culpeper.
All of the food grown on the farm -- more than 1650,000 pounds -- is donated to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which supplies food pantries around much of Virginia.
The previous farm manager was laid off last fall because of the Volunteer Farm's lack of funding.
Fox said he'd spent eight months "vigorously" looking for employment when a job website matched him with the Volunteer Farm. Agriculture has played a major role in his life.
"I was born and raised on a cattle farm," Fox said. "As I was growing up, we also had backyard gardens and stuff like that."
In the past five years, Fox, who had worked for a welding company, had begun doing a lot of backyard gardening with several large gardens at his house.
Forty-seven acres of vegetables are expected to be planted at the Volunteer Farm this year, and trees from the Culpeper farm have been transplanted, Fox said.
"It's going good," he said of operations. "One weekend, we had between 90 and 100 people here. As it gets warmer weather, our volunteers will increase."
Among the crops already planted or scheduled to be planted this year are onions, potatoes, beans, peas, squash, watermelons and cantaloupes.
Students at two schools are starting thousands of pepper and tomato plants which will then be transplanted to the farm, Fox said.
"I just keep praying donations, contributions keep coming in," Fox said.
So does Bob Blair, the man who started the Volunteer Farm on his former Christmas tree farm. He said the farm has reached about 70 percent of the $25,000 needed for a matching grant an anonymous donor is providing.
The donor will match donations from new donors, and the additional amount previous donors are adding to their highest-ever donation, up to $25,000, Blair said.
"So, new donors can double their money, and that helps us," he said.
To donate to the Volunteer Farm, visit www.WorldFoundationforChildren.com, call 459-3478, or send checks to 277 Crider Lane, Woodstock, 22664.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or
Volunteer Farm, nonprofit agency, hires manager
Posted: April 30, 2013
The Winchester Star
Winchester — Becoming the farm manager for the Volunteer Farm in Woodstock has had Johnathan “J.C.” Fox stepping out of his comfort zone.
Between growing up on a cattle farm and having his own backyard vegetable garden as an adult, Fox, 46, of Page County, knows about working the land.
But working with the volunteers of all ages needed to plant, tend and harvest the thousands of pounds of produce Volunteer Farm yields is something new for him.
“Seeing all these volunteers coming to the farm, planting and helping out is something I have really enjoyed,” he said. “I enjoy just seeing the love the people have for knowing what the farm does.”
Fox was hired March 15 to oversee volunteers and manage farming operations for the nonprofit farm, which donates its crops to food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens throughout Virginia.
The new farm manager hit the ground running, working with volunteers from his first day, planting potatoes and onions, said the Rev. Richard Reed, CEO of the farm, which is a program of the World Foundation for Children.
As farm manager of a 67-acre farm, 40 acres of which will be planted this year, Fox’s job is a big undertaking, Reed said.
All of Fox’s attention will be focused on the Woodstock Farm since the foundation’s board of directors voted at the Jan. 12 meeting to close the Culpeper location, which wasn’t supporting itself, he said.
“We are able to concentrate on this one area and make it a success,” said Reed, of Woodstock.
One of Fox’s biggest tasks will be coordinating volunteers, who are essential for the running of the farm, Reed said.
In 2012, 1,826 volunteers worked both farms, but to increase production at the Woodstock location, it needs more than 2,000 this year, he said.
In the past eight years, the farm has had 15,105 volunteers from 42 states and 27 foreign countries. About 75 percent of them were ages 18 and under.
Between Fox and Melissa, his wife of four years, they have a combined total of eight children, which means “you almost have to have a heart for children,” Fox said.
He is responsible for showing volunteers how to do tasks and then keeps them on track. One weekend in April, he oversaw a group of 93 volunteers ranging from children to adults as they worked in the potato and onion fields.
Some had backyard gardens or a little gardening knowledge, but there were many who had never watched a seed go into the ground before, he said.
“For me to explain to them how that seed goes into the ground and how it comes out and produces food is amazing to them,” he said.
Since it was founded in March 2004, Volunteer Farm has donated 297 tons of fresh food to people in need, Reed said.
In 2012, the farm produced 165,232 pounds of vegetables, including yellow squash, potatoes, pumpkins, beets, cabbage, onions and tomatoes, in addition to watermelons, Reed said. The food went to help feed 150,000 people across one-third of the state.
Last year the farm planted fruit trees and bushes, and the ones from the Culpeper farm were transplanted there, giving them a total of about 100 trees, he said. They include apples, peaches, pears, cherries, plums and four varieties of berries.
The trees haven’t matured fully and probably won’t produce fruit for another year or two, he said.
The farm represents a needed fresh start for Fox. He was out of work for two years because of health problems but has improved, he said. Before that, he worked at a welding company in Broadway.
Having a fresh start doing something he loves — raising produce — has been wonderful, he said.
“When I am out working the land or even walking around, I am relaxed and at peace knowing God put this ground here on Earth for us to use in a good way and for a good cause,” he said. “It makes me feel at peace and at ease.”
Fox started gardening in his backyard about five years ago, and was joined by his wife when they married a year later. The couple had prepared and planned to expand their garden to a commercial endeavor when Fox was hired at Volunteer Farm.
“Getting my wife and me ready for the increased production on what we were going to do at home got me ready,” he said.
Thanks to their home garden, Fox has seen firsthand the importance of fresh food in a person’s diet. His wife has Type 1 diabetes, and working in the garden and eating the fresh produce has helped improve her health, he said.
He wishes there were more farms like this working to feed the nation’s hungry.
“It doesn’t have to be a whole lot. Even one acre here or there could mean so much to a starving family,” he said.
The farm is in good shape between having Fox in place, all the efforts focused in one location, and fundraising proceeding nicely, Reed said.
In the past four years, the farm experienced a decline in revenue each year attributed to the economy and had to continually cut costs, even laying off the former farm manager, he said.
Finances had the board contemplating closing the farm down last year, but they got a “Christmas miracle” when supporters donated enough to see the program start the new year with $61,000 of its annual $240,000 budget, Reed said.
Currently, he is working on raising money toward a $25,000 matching grant for any donations from first-time givers or existing donors who double the amount of their highest donation to the farm.
“We are about 67 percent of the way right now,” he said. “I think we are doing pretty good on it.”
Reed is also focused on planning for the future by starting an investment account for the farm. “So when next year comes, I don’t have to say we need a lot of money.”
People may help at the Volunteer Farm Monday through Saturday. For more information or to volunteer, go to volunteerfarm.org.
How Childhood Hunger Can Change Adult Personality
The effects of going hungry in childhood may be more lasting than previously thought. Researchers studying people raised on Barbados who suffered severe starvation as infants found these adults were more anxious, less sociable, less interested in new experiences and more hostile than those who were well-nourished throughout childhood, according to a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Scientists led by Dr. Janina Galler of Harvard Medical School studied 77 children, born between 1967 and 1972, who were hospitalized for severe starvation syndromes known as marasmus or kwashiorkor at an average age of seven months, to determine how the malnutrition affected personality development.
Kwashiorkor results from a lack of protein and is marked by the protruding belly that has become a familiar symptom of child starvation. Marasmus is caused by poor caloric intake and children with this condition look more emaciated. Some children in the study had symptoms of both. Worldwide, nearly 3 million children under five die of hunger annually— and around 25% of the world’s children suffer stunted growth due to malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization.
The children in the study were enrolled in a hunger treatment and prevention program at the Barbados Nutrition Center, which provided food as well as home visits to monitor their recovery and nutrition education until they were 12. None of them had been born underweight or suffered from further starvation after the program started. Although their growth was stunted, they caught up with normal growth curves by adolescence. This group was compared with 57 school classmates, matched in age and gender, who had not suffered starvation.
The malnourished children were five times more likely to score higher than normal on tests of neuroticism — a trait that measures negative emotions and a tendency to feel uncontrollable distress— when they were in their 40s, compared to the well-nourished controls. Hunger also seemed to have an effect on suppressing development of extraversion, or sociability, since the children who had been starved were three times more likely to have abnormally low scores for this trait in middle age than the controls. The same was true with regard to conscientiousness, or the ability to reliably organize and follow through on plans.
MORE: Hungry in America: Documentary Explores the Growing Problem of Starvation Amid Plenty
Those who were malnourished during infancy were also more than 5 times as likely to have abnormally low scores on “openness to experience,” a measure of intellectual curiosity and independence. Although the differences were less pronounced, the malnourished group also showed reduced “agreeableness,” which rates whether people are hostile or altruistic.
“Poor nutrition early in life seems to predispose individuals to a suspicious personality, which may then fuel a hostile attitude toward others,” Adrian Raine, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, told Science News, commenting on the research. Raine, who was not associated with the study, conducted earlier investigations of malnutrition and personality, which found that early life enrichment significantly mitigated some of the most extreme negative effects on personality.
In that research, Raine and his colleagues studied nearly 1,800 children from Mauritius, a tropical island off the coast of Madagascar. They found that if those who suffered malnutrition before age three were enrolled in a preschool nutrition, education and exercise program, they were 53% less likely to have conduct disorder at age 17 and 63% less likely to have been involved in crime at age 23, compared to malnourished controls who did not attend the program.
The new research suggests that more subtle effects on personality — short of outright clinical disorders or criminal behavior — may unfortunately persist despite enrichment. However, the children in the Barbados study were far more severely malnourished than those in Mauritius, so it’s possible that milder cases may be more amenable to intervention.
The authors conclude, “[A] single episode of malnutrition during the first year of life and associated conditions can have a long-term impact on personality… [A]t the individual case level, the malnourished participants were more likely to be classified outside the average range of personality scores.”
They suggest several ways that malnutrition might cause such lasting changes on personality. “One possibility is that early childhood malnutrition affects personality development via direct impacts on the brain,” they write. The brain is the most energy-hungry organ in the body, particularly in babies, so it may be most vulnerable to direct damage when nutrients and calories aren’t there.
Starvation could also cause depression in the children’s mothers, which may in turn have negative effects on children’s development and behavior. Research on children with profoundly depressed caregivers shows that when the mother is less responsive to the infants’ signals, the children can become more anxious, depressed and less able to manage distress. Even a father’s distress can affect unborn children in negative ways.
It’s also possible that starvation affects the expression of genes in the brain, perhaps steering the child toward a personality better adapted to a world of scarcity. In a world where food is hard to get, for example, being more anxious, suspicious and sensitive to threats may aid survival. Those same traits may be less helpful where resources are plentiful.
Regardless of how hunger is influencing personality changes, the results stress that starvation may lead to physiological changes with lasting psychological consequences: another reason, even if more aren’t needed, to improve efforts to fight childhood hunger.
News Release as of April 1, 2013
The Volunteer Farm is pleased to announce that J.C. Fox has been hired as the new farm manager. J.C. has several years experience in vegetable farming and is excited to be joining the staff of the Volunteer Farm. Schedule your visit to the farm today and meet J.C. and if you have any questions or suggestions, he will be happy to take time to speak with you.
Planting has begun on the farm around all of the snow storms. We recently added 25 additional fruit trees to the farm and have been planting potatoes. The wet weather has been an issue and while we are a little behind schedule on planting, we are optimistic that we will have another record year of production.
Keep the donations coming . . . we are approximately 51% towards reaching the $25,000 in donations that is needed for our matching gift. Here's how it works - we have an anonymous donor that will match donations for any new donors or any donations received from our loyal supporters that are increased. So if you've donated $100 in the past and send us a donation of $200, we will be able to use $100 of that donation towards our matching gift. Let's make this happen together so we can put this generous offer to good use and help feed as many people the fresh, nutritious vegetables and fruits that they so desperately need.
We're are looking for a 4 wheel drive truck that we can use on the farm. If you have a truck that is in good working condition and would be willing to donate it to the Volunteer Farm, please contact us immediately at 540-459-3478. You will receive a tax receipt letter for your donation. The truck should be in good running condition and be able to pass all Virginia State Inspection regulations.
Finally, we would personally like to thank each and everyone that has helped continue the operations of the Volunteer Farm. Whether you have donated your time or money, we truly appreciate your efforts. With the busy season ahead, we will need more volunteers than ever to keep up with planting, maintaining and harvesting the crops. Please sign up today to volunteer at the farm and help provide the produce that is so vital to help the families in your neighborhoods make ends meet. Visit our website at www.volunteerfarm.org and find out how you can make a difference in the lives of your family, friends and neighbors.
We look forward to seeing you on the farm. Now let Spring begin!
Blessing from the farm!
VOLUNTEER FARMS STARTS NEW YEAR
WITH NEW CEO AND ADEQUATE FUNDING
WOODSTOCK- A weekend meeting of the Board of Directors of the World Foundation for Children, sponsor of the Volunteer Farms, produced a new budget for 2013, a new Chief Executive Officer, and renewed enthusiasm for the future.
In eight years, the Volunteer Farms, with the help of more than 15,000 volunteers, grew 297 tons of food donated to area food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens. Last year was a record year of production with the farms producing 83 tons of food at a cost of about 69 cents per pound.
The nation's economy in the last four years has produced increases in people needing food assistance, while decreasing donations to the non-profit. However, a fund-raising effort in December produced optimism for the future. The number of churches supporting the fams increased by 15 percent last year.
While increasing expenditures for the Volunteer Farm of Shenandoah near Woodstock, the budget eliminated operations of the Volunteer Farm of Culpeper because of insufficient local financial and volunteer support.
Fr. Richard Reed was elected Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation and the farms, succeeding founder Bob Blair of Woodstock, who remains as Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Other continuing officers are Mike Rich of Leesburg, VA, Vice Chairman; Carolyn Miller of Edinburg, VA, Chief Financial Officer; Doug Sensabaugh of Harrisonburg, VA, Secretary; and Louis J. Weinkam, Jr. of Cantonsville, MD, Legal Counsel.
Re-elected to the Board of Directors besides the officers were William C. Blair of Magnolia, NJ; Jeff Grillo of Ashburn, VA; Steve Meyer of Ashburn, VA; Peter Poriot of Harrisonburg, VA; Dan Smitley of Converse,TX; and William P. Thomas of Arlington, VA.
Lisa Currie of Toms Brook, VA, resigned from the board after having served since December 2006, while joining the board as Consultant was Louis J. Giuliano, of The Plains, VA, former chairman, president and CEO of ITT Corp., a Fortune 500 global-industrial company. He serves on several governing boards, including the U. S. Postal Service, where he served as Governor, with his nine-year appointment by President George W. Bush expiring next December.
Volunteer Farm changes to survive
Posted: January 22, 2013
The Winchester Star
Volunteers help at the farm, which does not sell any of its produce — it is donated to about 600 food banks, food panties, and soup kitchens throughout Virginia.
The Rev. Richard Reed is the new full-time CEO of the Volunteer Farm in Woodstock. He was previously part-time education and mentoring director.
Woodstock — Big changes are in store for the Volunteer Farm in Woodstock after a recent board of directors meeting for the World Foundation for Children.
The board hired a new chief executive officer, closed the farm’s Culpeper location, and set the tone for what they hope the new year will bring, said Bob Blair, founder and chairman of the board. The farm is a program of the foundation.
The Volunteer Farm grows produce with the help of thousands of volunteers throughout the growing season and donates it to area food banks and pantries.
The board hired the Rev. Richard Reed of Woodstock as the new full-time CEO, moving him from a part-time position as education and mentoring director. Members hope his skills and vision for the farm’s future will help keep it moving forward for years to come, Blair said.
“He is qualified and has the management ability as well as the interest and desire,” said Blair of Woodstock. “You don’t have many pastors who have management skills.”
The decision to close the Culpeper farm was due to lack of “support from that community,” he said. Woodstock’s operation had supported the other farm, and they could no longer justify “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Hiring Reed and closing the Culpeper farm has the board cautious but hopeful for the future, said Blair, who stepped down as CEO to cut down on his load. The outlook is a significant difference from the position the nonprofit organization was in last fall, when it considered closing its doors.
In the past four years, the farm experienced a decline in revenue each year attributed to the economy and had to continually “tighten its belt,” even laying off the farm manager, he said.
“We got to the point where we couldn’t see how we would have financial resources to operate in 2013,” he said.
So, it sent out a call for help Nov. 28. And in what Reed calls the farm’s “Christmas miracle,” the public answered, donating enough to see the program start the new year with $61,000 of its annual $240,000 budget.
“We did a lot of praying on this, and it is pretty apparent they were being answered,” said Reed of Woodstock.
Of course the amount is not close to what the farm needs to keep operating all year and carry over funds into 2014, but it is a start, he said.
The budget mostly covers operating costs such as irrigation, equipment and seeds, and also pays three salaries, Blair said. Besides Reed, there is Susan Billhimer, the volunteer coordinator, and the board hopes to hire a farm manager by March.
Though the fields are worked by volunteers, many people do not realize the costs associated with planting and harvesting a 40-acre farm, Blair said.
“It cost us 69 cents to raise one pound of food last year,” he said. “That is cheaper than what you pay for food in a grocery store, but it also reflects there is a cost to produce it.”
The farm does not sell any of its produce — it is donated to about 600 food banks, food panties and soup kitchens throughout Virginia, Blair said. The different agencies can come and load trucks of produce to give to people who usually have a diet consisting mostly of processed foods.
Since it was founded in March 2004, Volunteer Farm has donated 297 tons of fresh food.
In 2012, the farmed produced 165,232 pounds of vegetables, including yellow squash, watermelons, potatoes, pumpkins, beets, cabbage, onions and tomatoes, Blair said. The food went to help feed 150,000 people across a third of the state.
Last year the farm planted fruit trees and bushes, and some production is expected this year with more as they mature, he said. Fruits planted include apples, peaches, pears, plums and four varieties of berries.
“Another thing people don’t under is this is not a garden, it is a farm,” he said. “We are not planting a row here or there; we plant acres.”
Of the 82.6 tons of vegetables produced in 2012, 77.6 tons came from the Woodstock farm, Blair said. He owns the 67-acre farm in Woodstock, about 40 acres of which is actually planted, and leases it to the foundation for $1 a year.
The Culpeper land, which is owned by someone who wishes to remain anonymous, also is leased to the foundation for $1 a year, but that lease will be given up, he said.
With the closing of the Culpeper farm, the entire budget will be directed at the Woodstock location, which hopefully will help it grow, Blair said.
However, to achieve that growth, the farm will also have to see an increase in volunteers, Blair said. In the last eight years, it has had 15,105 volunteers from 42 states and 27 foreign countries. About 75 percent of them were ages 18 and under.
In 2012, 1,826 volunteers worked both local farms, he said. To increase production at the Woodstock location, it needs more than 2,000 volunteers this year.
“The funding and the volunteers have to go hand in hand,” he said. “We can’t have one really out of step with the other.”
Increasing the farm’s visibility to bring in donations and volunteers is one of Reed’s main goals for the future. Increasing production and strengthening the farm’s relationship with churches and organizations in the area are the other two goals.
He also hopes to cultivate new relationships with first-time donors like those who responded to the foundation’s plea for help. Two anonymous first-time donors gave a $10,000 and $25,000 donation.
The latter also offered a matching grant of up to $25,000 for any donations in 2012 from first-time givers or existing donors who double the amount of their highest donation to the farm, Reed said.
Reed, who moved to Woodstock in August 2011, is also establishing the Holy Family Orthodox Church in the Northern Shenandoah Valley around Woodstock. The parish is part of the Russian Orthodox Church.
From 1999 until 2011, he worked as a chaplain at hospitals and hospices, mainly in Florida. but the majority of his career was spent in the health care profession.
Reed earned a master’s degree in health care administration in 1990 from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond.
He retired in 1999 as a lieutenant commander from a 20-year career with the Navy. Most of that time was spent as a medical service corps officer, including serving in Operation Desert Storm as a chief operating officer over a U.S. Marine surgical company.
The ability to work with a variety of people is a skill Reed’s time in the military gave him, and he expects it to serve him well on the farm, Reed said.
People may volunteer from 8 a.m. through noon Mondays through Saturdays during the growing season. It is closed Sundays. For more information or to volunteer, go to volunteerfarm.org.
— Contact Laura McFarland at
document.write( '' );
document.write( addy_text72013 );
document.write( '<\/a>' );
Volunteer Farm staying in Woodstock, leaving Culpeper
By Sally Voth
The Volunteer Farm in Woodstock will be a leaner, and hopefully greener, operation in 2013.
The board of directors of its parent operation, the World Foundation for Children, met over the weekend and opted to keep the Woodstock farm in operation, while shutting down its offshoot operation in Culpeper, according to chairman Bob Blair.
In late November, Blair warned the farms he started were in danger of shutting down if an emergency appeal didn't raise about $50,000 before the start of 2013.
Blair, 77, started the Volunteer Farm on his land near Woodstock in 2004. The previous summer, he had woken up one morning with the idea of volunteers planting and growing food for the hungry.
Last year, the farms -- a second of which was started in Culpeper four years ago -- generated 83 tons of food for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
Within days of Blair's appeal, he got what he refers to as his "Christmas miracle." Nearly $40,000 -- including $25,000 from an anonymous donor -- was donated in less than a week.
He said the farm started the new year with about $65,000 carried over.
Still, there isn't enough local support -- volunteer-wise or financially -- for the Culpeper farm to continue, Blair said.
"It's disappointing, but each farm has to pretty much run on its own," he said. "It's the best of all worlds in the sense one, the Culpeper farm was taking money away from the Woodstock Farm. We can produce more on the Woodstock farm. That's where the bulk of our production has been. And, we think we can produce even more. We have that potential to grow more here."
Blair said the farm is looking for a new manager. The former manager had to be let go last fall due to financial reasons.
The same anonymous donor who gave the farm $25,000 has offered to match donations from new donors and will match the additional amount from existing donors who double their highest previous donation, up to $25,000 total, according to Blair.
Blair is still amazed by donors' generosity.
"We had a lot of donations from people that had never donated to us before, and some of them from out of state," he said. "Also, what surprised us was so many of them came in through Paypal.
"There's too many people out there that need food not to keep it going. [Donors] wanted us to keep serving the hungry folks."
Blair also announced on Monday he was no longer the foundation's CEO.
"I'm slowing down," he said of his decision to step down. "It's been tough. The last eight years have taken something out of me."
The farm's director of education and mentoring, the Rev. Richard Reed of Holy Family Orthodox Church in Woodstock, was elected CEO, according to the news release.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or
In need of ‘a Christmas miracle’
After eight years of healthy harvests, Volunteer Farm needs financial support.
A young volunteer holds newly harvested produce grown at Volunteer Farm in Woodstock.
For the past eight years, hungry families in Virginia have enjoyed fruits and vegetables thanks to the work of Volunteer Farm in Woodstock. Founded in 2004, Volunteer Farm is a nonprofit organization that uses volunteer labor to plant and harvest produce, which is then donated to food banks around the state, including the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank in Verona, near Staunton.
In recent years, financial support for Volunteer Farm has dwindled as the demand for food has increased. Now, the farm is in danger of closing its Culpeper location, which serves seven surrounding counties.
“We’re in financial straits,” said Bob Blair, the organization’s founder. “The real question up until the last few days was whether or not we could open next year.”
Blair, a former Christmas tree farmer, runs the organization’s two locations — 67 acres in Woodstock and 97 acres in Culpeper. In total, he estimates the farm has produced 297 tons of food. Last year alone, they grew 165,000 pounds.
According to Blair, the farm grows nearly everything one would find in a grocery store produce section. That means beets, pumpkins, corn, okra, melons, onions, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, watermelon and more — everything from apples to zucchini. All that food is distributed directly from the field to area food banks, providing fresh and healthy produce for 150,000 people a month who otherwise would not have it.
“Out of the 150,000 being served, about 40 percent are under 18 years of age and their obesity rate is twice the norm,” Blair said. “It’s not that their parents don’t care about them. It’s that they don’t have the money to buy all the nutritious things they need. Twinkies are cheaper than apples.”
To help produce all that food, the farm relies entirely on the assistance of volunteers from around the state. Since opening, more than 15,000 volunteers have come to plant and harvest produce. Many of those volunteers are teenagers working toward service requirements for schools or the sacrament of confirmation.
For many of the young volunteers, this is the first opportunity to experience what life on a farm is all about, Blair said.
“We have kids from the city who come out and they don’t know a rock from a potato,” he said. “So they’re also learning where their food comes from.”
St. Francis de Sales Church in Purcellville sends groups of 30-50 volunteers to help at the farm twice a year. The trips are organized by Janice Rees, parish coordinator of religious education. She believes the young people benefit greatly from working on the farm.
“I think they realize that it’s giving of themselves,” Rees said. “They take a day out of their weekend to help serve, really paying attention to the corporal work of mercy to feed the poor. Then, after working for three and a half hours, the food truck pulls up and they can see the truck being loaded with food and they get to see that it’s going directly to the people who need it most.”
Blair hopes the time spent working on the farm will help young people appreciate the importance of service.
“We have two blessings,” he said. “One is providing a large amount of food and the other blessing is helping to better these kids so they serve other people, and, hopefully, it becomes a lifelong habit.”
Thanks to the troubled economy, donations to the farm have dropped steadily over the past four years, Blair said.
“We tried everything to catch up, but nothing was working,” he said. “I don’t think it’s because people didn’t care about the farm as much as they’re concerned with their own situation — whether or not they’d have a job tomorrow. And of course, several of them were helping feed their neighbors or family.”
On Nov. 28, Blair sent out an SOS email blast to donors and volunteers, explaining the farm’s troubling financial situation. Since then, the farm has received almost 50 donations, totaling nearly $40,000.
“I think what’s happening to us is certainly a blessing,” Blair said. “We’re kind of calling it a Christmas miracle to get so many donations in such a short time.”
Still, it takes $100,000 a year to operate the farm, so Blair is hoping people will continue to give. To stay open, the farm needs at least $50,000 in its coffers before its annual board meeting Jan. 12.
By supporting Volunteer Farm, Blair said donors and volunteers are living out Christ’s message. In the days to come, he hopes the support continues.
"Christ basically told us two things: Serve God and love thy neighbor,” he said. “(By supporting the farm) they’re helping to feed other people.”
Bahr can be reached on Twitter @KBahrACH.
How to help
To donate to Volunteer Farm, call 540/459-3478, go to worldfoundationforchildren.com , or send a check to 277 Crider Lane, Woodstock, VA 22664.
Northern Virginia Daily, Front Page, Dec. 6, 2012
By Sally Voth
A Christmas Miracle For Volunteer Farms
Cash-strapped charity received boon from donors
For Volunteer Farms founder Bob Blair, Christmas miracles are a very real thing.
Less than a week after Blair worried that the eight-year-old Woodstock farm--and its sister operation in Culpeper--were in serious danger of shutting down, nearly $40,000 has been donated in an effort to save the operation.
"This feels like a Christmas miracle to me. It's still going (on), but it feels like its a miracle, we we're going to save the farm one way or another," Blair said.
All of the fruit and vegetables grown on the two farms--and this year's harvests were above 165,000 (pounds)--are donated to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which fills food pantries across one-third of the Commonwealth.
Blair said last week it takes more than $100,000 each year to run the farms, with most of that money going to postage, fuel, seeds, and to pay a farm manager. The farm's last manager was laid off earlier this fall due to financial straits.
"The revenue has been on a steadily downward trend for the last four years with the recession," Blair said in a Nov. 28 interview. "The bottom line is people are afraid--duly so--of this recession. They don't know what's going to happen tomorrow in their situation. So, love thy neighbor has kind of been put on the back burner. I think there's a lot of factors that come into play but I think it is mainly the recession,"
Blair worried that if $50,000 wasn't raised by the end of the month, the farms might have to shut down. and, that would be bad news for the roughly 150,000 they help feed each month.
However, on Wednesday, a much relieved and joyful Blair had good news.
"It's really working," he said of the appeal for help. "We've taken in on an average since the 29th of November (when the Daily article ran) about $2,800 a day, which is just amazing. We stand at $39,725, which includes a $25,000 check that's in the mail."
That donor is from Chancellorsville, and want to remain anonymous.
Blair said the majority of the past week's donations have come from people who've never given before.
"Most of these donations came in by PayPal, off our online website," he said. "of the total of 50 donations, 32 of them are from new donors."
That includes the signer of the $25,000 check.
"It is still a good ways to go until our annual board meeting on Jan. 12, but if we keep this momentum going, we should be able to operate next year," Blair said.
Many of the donations are in the hundreds of dollars each, he said, including a $1,000 check that came from Florida from "a new donor, and how in the world she heard about us, I don't know.
Since the article appeared, Blair has been stopped on the street and in church by people inquiring about the fund-raising appeal.
"So, there's interest, obviously, and that's gratifying," he said. "We feel very blessed, and hopefully, they continue supporting us. We're going to need a lot of support to make it work all year long."
Area businesses also have stepped up with offers of help, Blair said. Anthony's Pizza in Strasburg is having a fundraiser from 4 to 9 p.m. on Monday, he said, and the Woodstock Arby's has plans to help as does the Country Boys Country Club. A Winchester church has pledged to take up a collection for the farms on Christmas eve, too.
"Just a lot of things working for us," Blair summed up.
Those wishing to donate the the Volunteer Farms can visit www.WorldFoundationforChildren.com, call 459-3478, or send checks to 277 Crider Lane, Woodstock, 22664.
Northern Virginia Daily, Nov. 29, 2012
By Sally Voth
Grower of produce for food bank in dire financial straits
Without a Christmas miracle, the Volunteer Farms might have to shut down, founder Bob Blair recently lamented. "We're past dire straits," said Blair, sitting in the Woodstock farm's office.
A second farm in Culpeper opened a few years ago. All of the fruit and vegetables grown on the farm are donated to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
The idea for the farm came to Blair about nine years ago, and in less than a year, he converted part of what had been his Christmas tree farm into a growing operation for the hungry.
This year, the 30 acres planted in Woodstock and 40 acres in Culpeper yielded more than 165,000 pounds of food, such as onions, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and watermelon.
That's about eight times more than last year, mainly attributed to a donated deep-water well and irrigation system. More than 1,800 volunteers -- the majority younger than 18 -- pitched in this year.
"The revenue has been on a steadily downward trend for the last four years with the recession," Blair said Wednesday. "We've tried everything we could to increase the revenue."
This year alone, an additional 100 churches have helped support the farm -- bringing the total to 225, he said.
"But the total revenue has really not gone up that much, i.e., the churches are being hit hard, too," Blair said. "I don't know exactly what the figure would be [in order to continue]. Probably somewhere around 50,000 in the next month. Which is pretty hard to fathom.
"It's going to take one or two checks, as well as we need to have people that used to donate get back on the bandwagon with us. Hope someone wins the Powerball."
The charity has had to lay off its farm manager earlier this fall, he said. And, on Wednesday morning volunteer Carol Reed was stuffing envelopes with thank you/appeal letters, although there was no money to pay for the postage. About $480 would be needed to pay for the stamps, said volunteer coordinator Suzy Billhimer, the farm's only full-time employee.
Reed's husband, the Rev. Rick Reed, works part time as the director of education and mentoring.
"The issue is we will have our annual meeting the first week of January, and I don't know whether the board will say we need to continue for the next year," Blair said.
It's also possible the Culpeper farm could shut down, he said. Each farm has a 10-year lease for $1 a year.
"The bottom line is people are afraid -- duly so -- of this recession," Blair said. "They don't know what's going to happen tomorrow in their situation. So, love thy neighbor has kind of been put on the back burner. I think there's a lot of factors that come into play, but I think it's mainly the recession. They keep hearing about going off the cliff, as an example. They may be helping their family members that have been out of work for a couple of years.
"The start of the recession was the beginning of our downfall four years ago. Now, because we've had a steady decline of revenue, it's hard for us to go to the foundations and get grants."
Operating the farm costs more than $100,000 a year, according to Blair. About $817,000 has gone into operations since 2004, according to numbers he provided.
Since 2004, the farm has produced close to 600,000 pounds of produce.
But, in that time, the number of hungry people has tripled, Blair said. "When we started off eight years ago, Blue Ridge Food Bank said we would be helping to feed about 50,000 people a month," he said. "That figure has now gone up to 150,000. We've had an increase in number by three times, but we haven't been able -- other than this year -- to keep up with that growth. Certainly, our revenue did not keep up with that." In this area, 40 percent of those who are hungry are children, said Blair, and they're at greater risk of obesity because of the higher costs of fresh produce compared to junk food.
Blair never thought the farm would be this close to closure.
"I still find it hard to believe that the Lord has decided that we're going to be poor to the point that it will affect our capability to feed the hungry," he said. "These folks need the fresh vegetables.
"We've done everything we can, but I guess we're letting our desperation show a little bit now. Anyone that donates to us now in the next 30 days or so, their funds will go to help hungry people whether we stay in business or not. [If the farm stops operating] we will donate any excess assets to area food pantries, soup kitchens, etc."
Blair is afraid that the Volunteer Farms' message isn't getting out properly, and seemed frustrated it has come to this.
"I can't believe that people are so selfish that they're not considering the problems of people, but I think they may be doing other things," Blair said.
He reiterated that many people may simply be using their extra resources to help out-of-work family members.
The Volunteer Farms are "doing outstanding work," Blue Ridge Area Food Bank CEO Larry Zippin said Wednesday afternoon.
"Food donations from [our] other services are declining," he said. "The federal government is buying less food as the cost of food has risen, and the whole issue of balancing the budget and the deficit, fiscal cliff, etc., the federal government is buying less food and donating less to food banks."
Manufacturers are donating less as quality-control measures have become more efficient resulting in less packaging errors, Zippin said. "Now, [manufacturers] have discovered a secondary market, dollar stores, and they sell those mistakes now for 30 cents on the dollar," he said. "It's sort of a perfect storm as the amount of donated food declines, the number of people facing emergency food assistance has increased 16 percent this past year."
The food bank has warehouses in Winchester, Charlottesville, Verona and Lynchburg and serves about one-third of the state, according to Zippin.
Those wishing to donate to the Volunteer Farms can visit www.worldfoundationforchildren.com, call 459-3478, or send checks to 277 Crider Lane, Woodstock, Va. 22664.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or
November 28, 2012
Volunteer Farm Needs Help to Continue Feeding One Third of Virginia's Hungry
WOODSTOCK, Va. -- Bob Blair started a volunteer farm about eight years ago and now, dozens of acres of farmland are used to feed the hungry. Blair said the farm is completely run by volunteers and donations.
Now, the farm's future is uncertain due to a tough economic situation. "Revenue has been going down steadily over the last four years because of the recession," said Blair, "The issue is how do we continue running next year with less money, feeding more people?"
Blair said they are trying to maintain the farm, but without donations and volunteers, they may have to close the farm. That means they may not be able to help the 150,000 people they currently help every month. Along with feeding the hungry, Richard Reed, the farm's manager said this has been a good way to teach young people about volunteering. "The majority of our volunteers are underage, or under 18 years old and they learn to serve others by coming here," said Reed, "It's not just we grow good food, we help teach them and mentor them to become lifelong volunteers."
Those are volunteers that help feed a third of Virginia from the farm. Blair said they send their fruits and vegetables to food pantries across the state to help those in need. Without their farm, he said those families will rely more on canned goods, which is something that is not always healthy.
"Well if you're getting a lot of your food from canned goods, your body would tell you very quickly that you'd need some fresh vegetables," said Blair.
That fresh produce can be expensive and that was why Blair hoped they will find a way to keep the farm going to help the hungry. Blair said this year alone, the volunteer farm donated 82.5 tons of food to the hungry; that's more than 180,000 pounds.
If you'd like to help the farm, go to www.VolunteerFarm.org
Daily News-Record, Harrisonburg, VA
November 27, 2012
By Kaitlin Mayhew
IRRIGATION SYSTEM BOOSTS VOLUNTEER FARMS' HARVEST
WOODSTOCK--As this year's harvest comes to a close, the Volunteer Farms of Woodstock and Culpeper have exceeded last year's donation of vegetables to area food banks and soup kitchens by more than 70 tons.
Bob Blair, chairman and CEO of the nonprofit farm, attributed this year's success to a new irrigation system put in at the beginning of the growing season.
Blair started the Shenandoah County volunteer farm on his property west of Woodstock eight years ago.
Blair and his volunteers grew 30 acres of vegetables this year at the Woodstock farm, with all the produce donated to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
This year, a new $5,000 irrigation system, purchased with donated funds, helped lead to a significantly greater harvest.
In 2011, the two volunteer farms produced around 10 tons of vegetables. This year, volunteers harvested 82.5 tons, according to the website of The World Foundation for Children, the organization responsible for the farm's operation.
Similar to a perforated hose, "drip tape" irrigation allows more acreage to be watered in less time. The tape was buried underground to prevent weeds from sprouting up around it, and to deliver water directly to the roots of plants.
Blair sits down with organizers from the food banks every January to plan which crops he should grow based on what they find people like.
"Potatoes, that's their favorite because it can be prepared in several different ways and they are easy to keep," he said. "We try to grow what they want."
The farms also grow a variety of seasonal vegetables, from tomatoes and pumpkins to watermelons and kohlrabi.
Cabbage and broccoli, now in season, occupy most of the garden space.
This year, 1,700 volunteers gave their time at the two farms, many from church and college groups, including several from James Madison University.
According to the farms, the produce they grow helps feed more than 150,000 Virginians in need each month.
"They are food insecure," Blair said of the people who benefit from the produce. "When they wake up, they don't know if they are going to have anything to eat or not.
"Normally, what they get from the food banks are canned goods. The fresh produce is so important."
Blair, who retired from working for the federal government in Washington, DC, has owned the Woodstock property since 1973. He used to run a Christmas tree farm there until he moved there full time.
Most Saturdays in the summer are volunteer days, though Blair said he could still use help harvesting cabbage and sending out donation request letters.
"This is the time of year people are more conscious about helping the hungry, so we try to send out donation letters around this time," he said.
Anyone interested can register at www.Volunteerfarm.Org.
Northern Virginia Daily
By Sally Voth
Volunteer Farm Sees Dramatic Rise in Harvest, Need
A donated irrigation system is credited with having a tremendous amount to do with an eight-fold increase in produce harvested this year at the Volunteer Farms of Woodstock and Culpeper.
Farm founder Bob Blair said that 82.5 tons of food had been donated to regional food banks this year--and there is still cabbage to be harvested. Last year, the figure was about 10 tons.
A little more than a year ago, the Virginia Well Water Association paid for the installation of a well-fed drip irrigation system at the Woodstock farm, which had been using a lake for watering.
"It's been a great year," Blair said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I think (the new deep well and irrigation system) is a90 percent of it. It was just a good growing year. We had a month or so in the middle of the summer if we wouldn't have had the irrigation syste, we would've lost a lot.
"And, our quality is up. Our customers are saying that they feel the quality had been improved substantially."
Blair attributes that, too, to the new irrigation system, which added 5,000 feet of buried irrigation pipe.
"We thought that the production would improve with irrigation," he said. "We knew without the irrigation, we had some bad years."
The huge increase in yield was also done on less acreage, according to Blair. About 30 acres were planted in Woodstock, and 40 in Culpeper, he said.
The produce grown included potatoes, melons, squash, broccoli and beets.
"We did pumpkins this year for the first time," Blair added. "They were really well received. I wasn't sure that the food banks would take them, but they were excited about them."
The need for the 8-year-old farm is greather than ever with the continuing bleak economy, Blair said.
"We had to produce more this year because there are so manymore people that have been added to the roster, a lot more hungry people," he said. "It's gone up to over 150,000 people that we're helping on a monthly basis. The worst part of it is those people--they're in it for the long haul. They've kind of lost all hope of getting back on their feet. It's just beyond desperation, of getting up every monring and wondering if they're going to have something to eat."
Nearly 1,700 volunteers they year help to plant, maintain and harvest the crops, according to a news release from the Volunteer Farm.
TO GIVE: Donations can be sent to 277 Crider Lane, Woodstock, VA 22664 or made online at www.VolunteerFarms.org.