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Success Stories

Small Farmers Think Big to Grow Markets for Southside Virginia Produce

Barbara Bowen
Cooperatives
State Director Perry Hickman and Area Director Laurette Tucker confer with Brick Goldman (right) in the cooperative's original aggregation facility.

Butterflies are primary pollinators for many vegetables and herbs, helping to ensure a good harvest on Virginia farms. The delicate wings that propel them from flower to flower can carry them many miles to transform the agricultural landscape.

Though most closely associated with weather, the butterfly effect has been used to describe a broad range of situations where one small act can have far-reaching consequences. The Southside Virginia Fruit and Vegetable Producers Association is a real-world example of this phenomenon in action.

Cornell “Brick” Goldman and Mike and Amy Carwile were raising more than they could sell on their farms and at local markets when they first explored options for pooling resources and production capabilities to attract bigger buyers. The team arranged to rent an old Charlotte County fire station in 2018 and convert it into an aggregation facility where produce from member farms could be boxed and staged for deliveries.

They got their first refrigerated truck in 2019 with funding from USDA Rural Development (RD) and the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability (VA FAIRS), an organization that helps rural entrepreneurs convert, maintain, or start cooperatives. VA FAIRS received funding from the Rural Cooperative Development Grant since 2015, a program that gives funding to organizations who help rural communities with cooperative development and technical assistance. The $126,200 Rural Business Development Grant also helped the group purchase a walk-in cooler to increase capacity to deliver fresh produce and expand sales opportunities up and down the east coast.

Goldman was no stranger to RD and VA FAIRS as he had received a 2015 Value-Added Producer Grant to develop a targeted marking plan for packaging and selling his own produce to a wider customer base. That experience came in handy with this new venture.

Five years later, the founders are still overseeing operations and taking steps to build up the organization and its resources. Amy initially received a small salary for her work placing orders and has now been hired as the office manager. The group is also moving away from a volunteer workforce, securing additional capital to create new jobs with benefits.

A second $105,000 RD grant awarded in 2022 is helping support sustained growth through a new aggregation facility with a well and septic system to support close to 30 member growers from eight counties. Another $176,000 grant from the Tobacco Commission is funding the purchase of a new headquarters on 10 acres of land with some test plots for beginning farmers.

Goldman is particularly interested in reaching out to young people who want to get into agriculture. He shepherds them through the process, making sure to take everything they grow that meets the co-op’s quality standards to give these new farmers the best chance of success.

Production meetings start in November so mentor farmers can guide growers to plant certain products they can move. The annual dues of $100 per farm are primarily intended to ensure a commitment from each member. The group shares equipment with new producers and educates them about produce grading and farm planning.

“Food Lion really got us started when they bought in and committed to buy from us,” said Goldman. “We’re now their main supplier for swiss chard, gold bar yellow zucchini and pattypan squash. The association is growing by about 25 percent annually with over one million in sales this past year.”

He adds that more packaging equipment will soon be needed as the organization continues to expand and workers can no longer hand label every shipment. It will be one of many small steps that support the metamorphosis of this business into a force for change in economically depressed Southside Virginia.

Photo Caption: State Director Perry Hickman and Area Director Laurette Tucker confer with Brick Goldman (right) at the Southside Virginia Fruit and Vegetable Producers Association's original aggregation facility (USDA photo by Barbara Bowen).

Date of Obligation
Obligation Amount:
$105,000
Date of Obligation:
Congressional District:
5