Roxanna Snead explains Braehead Farm's agritourism  best practices to the Young Farmers Summer Expo participants.

Young Farmers Tour Visits Fredericksburg’s Braehead Farm

by | Jul 30, 2016 | Business

By Susan Larson. Photos copyright Fredericksburg Today.

Virginia Farm Bureau’s (VAFB) Young Farmers visited Braehead Farm in Fredericksburg on July 29, 2016, as part of their 11th Annual Young Farmers Summer Expo, held this year at the Fredericksburg Expo & Conference Center. Young Farmers is comprised of 18 – 35 year-olds who support agriculture through production, education, promotion, advocacy and leadership.

“Young Farmers is all about networking,” said Jon Hegeman, immediate past chairman of American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers & Ranchers and a conference speaker. “Twenty-seven percent of the U.S. population works in agriculture feeding 98 percent of the U.S. population,” he said. “Diversification and networking is extremely important in the agricultural business, because it’s no longer about small town, family-owned farms.” He said agricultural businesses have to “operate as units.”

Casy Phillips, a third generation dairy farmer and member of Virginia Farm Bureau’s District 3 committee, said most farms can’t make it today without diversifying. Dairy prices are so low, he’s added pick-your-own sweet corn to Phillips Dairy in Radford, Va., and is considering adding sunflowers. “I’m excited to see Braehead has sunflowers,” he said. “I want to hear how they’ve incorporated them into their business.”

George and Roxanna Snead opened Braehead Farm in May 2013. The 28 acres they own, plus the 56 acres they lease back, are part of what used to be the Snead family’s dairy farm. Emmett C. Snead, Sr., was renting historic Braehead Manor — now a bed and breakfast located within the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park — when he purchased 200 acres from the estate in 1937. George’s father Emmett C. Snead, Jr., began a dairy farm on the land.

“The biggest challenge we had opening our business was zoning,” Roxanna told the Young Farmers. “We wanted events and children on the farm, and it took us 18 months working with city planning to get all the approvals in place,” she said. Just this month, directional signs were added to Route 3. Now they’re saving the $20,000 they need to hook their lines into the city sewers, so they can replace their portapotties with public restrooms. Good relationships with local government are important, she said.

George talked about the importance of diversification. “You have to have lots of people to make it,” he said. The Sneads have a multipronged approach to keep people coming year round. These include pick-your-own crops, a market store of farm-produced and locally sourced foods and products, seasonal events like the Fall and Easter Festivals, educational tours for schools, barn rentals for community and private events, and admission to their farmyard playgrounds and animals.

“A good website and a good person to run your educational programs are vital to agritourism,” Roxanna said. She said their best advertising comes from the school groups who visit. “You get 150 kids out here who go home and tell their families, and that’s a lot of people potentially coming back.”

Staff education is also important. “We tell our staff this is Disneyland to our guests,” she said. It’s important everyone working keeps the place spotless, communicates consistent information to guests, and knows emergency protocols, she said.

Most of all, building a business takes time, Roxanna said.

Braehead Farm, located at 1130 Tyler St. in Fredericksburg, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (9 – 5 in the winter). They are closed Christmas Day and New Years Day. Admission is free to pick produce to purchase in the market (all produce is sold by the pound) and shop the market, which includes meat, dairy, produce, baked goods, local honey, jams and jellies, lunch and ice cream.

Admission is $5 (under age 2 are free) for the Playgrounds in the Barn Lot, which features farm animals; play barns with hay, swings and slides; and sand piles and corn pit with trucks and toys.

During the conference weekend. Young Farmers also visited Greenline Service Corp., Silver Ridge Farm, Battlefield Farms & Nursery, Belmont Farm Distillery, Cedar Mountain Stone, Mt. Pony Farm, Atlantic Hay, Fresh Tulips USA, Miller Farms Produce and Brooke Farms.

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, an affiliate of the American Farm Bureau Federation, “is a non-governmental, nonpartisan, voluntary organization committed to protecting Virginia’s farms and ensuring a safe, fresh and locally grown food supply.”

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