Our first Member Spotlight for 2017 features one of NASDA's 11 female members. Sandy Adams has led the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (VDACS) as Commissioner since June 2014.
How do you start your day?
Nothing starts my day off better than a fast walk first thing in the morning, at least 30 minutes. This is usually doable 10 out of 12 months in Virginia. I come back to coffee and a review of the news before I leave the house. I bring my second cup of coffee and my breakfast with me. I have a 20 – 45 minute commute to our office on Capitol Square, depending on the traffic, and that gives me time to mentally organize my day. A second check of messages, as well as catching up with key staff starts the day once in Capitol Square. About 20 percent of the time, I head directly from home to a meeting or to work with one or more of our employees somewhere around the Commonwealth.
What do you think is missing from the conversation when we don’t have women at the table and in leadership roles?
My first inclination is to say what’s missing is a lot of history and a lot of heart. I don’t think any farm family underestimates the contributions of mom and grandma through the generations, but we lose this influence up the ladder in government policy, ag organizations, even media reporting. When I say we also lose the heart, I’m not talking about warm and fuzzy things like baking apple pies and nursing a sick calf. I mean the fundamental realization that what we do every day on the farm is putting food into the mouths of people around the world. I know men know that, but I think it’s higher up in the practical, day-to-day consciousness of women. With us facing the challenge of feeding nearly 10 billion people by 2050, we have to keep that awareness and that challenge at the forefront and I firmly believe women can lead that charge and communicate it to the public. Fortunately, the number of women in leadership roles is growing quickly, as is the commitment to communicating the importance of agriculture.
What is your background in farming and agriculture?
I grew up in the breadbasket of Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley. I am a generation away from growing up on a farm (in Garrett County Maryland), but in Harrisonburg, Virginia, we knew where our food came from because it was all around us. Many of my friends in church lived on farms and I loved visiting their places. Agriculture did and continues to surround Harrisonburg in multiple counties. The majority of our poultry production is located in the Valley. Even city dwellers eat fresh sweet corn from a roadside stand and the city still often smells of the feed mills. We knew the difference between a dairy farm and a beef cattle operation even though they both feature cows. Today I run into students who are shocked to learn that hamburger comes from a cow and bacon comes from a pig. They think if it didn’t grow in the dirt, it’s not agriculture. We knew better and we appreciated the lifestyle and the economic contributions of our farmers. My twenty years at VDACS have been an outstanding education in agriculture, Virginia’s number one private industry, and in the consumer protection we provide on so many levels.
What is the most rapidly expanding sector of agriculture or commodity in your state?
We have several commodities that continue to lead the list, namely poultry, beef and dairy. We are seeing dramatic increases in oysters, wine, craft beer and even niche products, but among these, wine leads the pack. In January our Governor announced a new economic study on Virginia’s wine industry and found that today it contributes almost $1.4 billion annually and that its economic impact grew 82 percent over a five year period. Mr. Jefferson’s dream has come true. There are more than 250 wineries in Virginia, and agritourism around the wineries, craft breweries and now distilleries and cideries is also growing by leaps and bounds.
In seven words or less, what is some advice you would offer your fellow agriculturalists?
Teach the public that agriculture equals food.