The Virginia Aquaculture Association, Inc., VAA (www.virginiaaquaculture.org) originated the Virginia Aqua-Farmers Network (VAN) concept in 2004 as a means to assist small-scale aqua-farmers and flue-cured tobacco producers seeking an alternative income stream from existing on-farm infrastructure (irrigation ponds and greenhouses) in south central Virginia. A Working Group was formed in Spring 2005 to outline the concept for VAN and establish a support network. A meeting was held between the VAA and Virginia State University (VSU) to discuss partnering options for the development and support of VAN. Other key individuals were contacted for networking and support services, and a proposal was drafted to apply for a feasibility study grant. In October 2005, the VAA was awarded a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant to conduct a feasibility study and fine-tune a developmental document. In October 2006, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the VAA and VSU outlining how VSU would assist with VAN’s early phases of development. In December 2006, the feasibility study was complete, the VAN concept document was in place, and a producers meeting was held.
In January 2007, a VAN Producer Steering Committee was formed. A Marketing Plan was written in cooperation with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA Program and completed in April 2007. Finally, in May 2007, a Business Plan was completed in cooperation with Longwood University’s Small Business Development Center. On May 16, 2007, the Virginia Aqua-Farmers Network held their first meeting with 18 members and one affiliate. More than 60,000 catfish fingerlings, 15,000 hybrid striped bass fingerlings, and 233,000 prawn larvae were staged for production in Summer 2007.
In January 2008, the VAA was awarded a $200,000 Virginia Tobacco Indemnification & Community Revitalization Commission Grant to hire a VAN manager and implement a VAN cost-share program. In May and June of 2008, more than 300,000 prawn juveniles were stocked in our farmers ponds. Nearly 10,000 pounds of prawn were harvested in September and October of 2008.
Today, Virginia Aqua-Farmers Network is 18 members strong. Everyday our farmers are making considerable improvements to making our products the freshest and safest around. We sell fresh fish and prawns throughout the local area and through our website. Our products are available in farmers markets and can be source to restaurants seeking fresh, local ingredients. If you are interested in becoming a member of our organization, then see the information below. We are always looking for new members who care about aquaculture, the environment, and producing a safe, local, sustainable product.
What Is VAN?
The Virginia Aqua-Farmers Network (VAN) is a new generation cooperative enabling small aquaculture farmers in Southside and Southwest Virginia to supply locally-produced, quality products to consumers, restaurants, and caterers by pooling resources for production and marketing. Much of the land on which these farms now exist was formerly used in raising tobacco. VAN is committed to sustainability, and its products are raised in pristine, freshwater ponds without the use of chemicals or hormones. This ensures that these well-managed ponds will not negatively impact the environment or cause pollution in surrounding waters.
VAN producers raise channel catfish, rainbow trout, hybrid striped bass, and freshwater prawns, which are sold under the Virginia Natural Fish Company brand.
What Does VAN Provide Its Members?
Technical Assistance and Training – VAN, working with Virginia State University and Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension, provides assistance with pond management, raising warm water and cold water fish in open pond and cage culture systems, water quality, regulatory concerns, and sustainability.
Purchasing – As a cooperative, VAN is able to purchase animals for stocking, feed and other products in bulk and passes the savings along to the farmers.
Logistics – VAN members work together to assist with pond stocking, harvesting and transportation to processing and storage facilities.
Marketing – VAN has a marketing manager, who works with chefs, restaurants and caterers, as well as consumers to promote and sell VAN products under the Virginia Natural Fish Company brand. VAN is currently marketing its products through small niche markets, such as farmers markets and restaurants, to receive top dollar for its top quality fish and prawns.
How Do I Become a Member?
There are two types of membership – Member Producers and Affiliate Producers. Apply to become a VAN Affiliate Producer. This will afford you all the advantages of VAN and give you an opportunity to see if VAN is right for you. If your relationship with VAN proves to be a good fit, you may apply to become a Producer Member, which would give you all the advantages of VAN, as well as voting rights and owning one of a limited number of company shares. For more information, contact:
Cathy Belcher, Marketing Manager
Virginia Aqua-Farmers Network
200A Milnwood Road, Farmville, VA 23901
434.414.4620, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org