Farm moms featured in online series

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Behind every bit of food and fiber is a person with a unique story.

The webinar series “Faces of Virginia Farming,” presented by Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, gives the public an opportunity to listen to conversations among Virginia farmers and connect with the people who grow the products they use.

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“Real Farm Moms of Virginia” was the featured webinar prior to Mother’s Day weekend, and participants discussed farm-life balance, dirty jobs and misconceptions about women in agriculture.

“Depending on the day, we’re not always in bib overalls and a sun hat—what is probably the epitome of the image of a female farmer,” Kari Sponaugle of Church Hill Produce LLC in Highland County said. “We can be in slacks and a blouse ready for an interview at Farm Credit to buy more property. Then maybe that afternoon we’ll put our Muck Boots on and maybe go dig a ditch, get the cows in or go harvest something.”

Sponaugle works nine-to-five as a Virginia Cooperative Extension 4-H youth development agent and five-to-nine as a farm mom. That job description includes accountant, animal care manager, spray specialist, mechanic and computer technician, “and all the while, you’re also raising children, feeding families, and if you’re married—holding that together. You go to sleep every night knowing that’s what you want to do, and you’re loving it.”

Shelley Butler Barlow of Cotton Plains Farm in Suffolk grows cotton and other crops full-time.

“I like to have a plan and work the plan, and I’m here to tell you that never happens on the farm,” Barlow said. “It’s never the same thing every day.”

But she uses her voice to share the story of modern farming—producing greater yields of high-quality products with fewer resources.

“We’re a solar collection facility,” she said. “We collect sunshine and turn it into cotton. It’s biodegradable with no plastics going into the environment. We are running a business, and trying to do that in the most responsible and profitable way we can.”

Sarah Rudolph of Double R Farms in Wythe County manages a cow-calf operation with her husband in addition to their off-farm careers. They are accustomed to questions about how cattle are raised.

“I’m a good steward of my cattle, and I know I am doing things correctly,” she said. “If I have a sick cow, it is my responsibility to do everything I can to make that cow better.”

She is confident in the safety of their product.

“We just put beef in the freezer, and we know that cattle were potentially given medicines, and I feel comfortable giving that meat to my children,” she said. “There are safeguards in place to keep (recently medicated) cattle from ever getting into the food system.”