The Virginia Cooperative Extension has recognized Tyler Wegmeyer of Wegmeyer Farms near Lincoln as its 2016 Farmer of the Year.
Wegmeyer will join nine other state winners as finalists for the prestigious Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award, which will be announced on Oct. 18 at the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show to be held in Moultrie, GA.
Wegmeyer was informed that he had won the state award a couple of weeks ago, but the news was officially announced in the Virginia Cooperative Extension News. Wegmeyer was nominated for the award by Loudoun County Extension Agent Jim Hilleary.
Reached for comment today, Wegmeyer said he was particularly gratified by the Farmer of the Year award because it represents the contributions of his entire family—his wife, Harriet, and their three children, Torsten, Tucker and Colden, aged 10, 8 and 5, respectively.
“I can’t say how much that means to me,” he said.
The couple, who have lived in Loudoun for about 17 years, believe strongly in being good stewards of the land, deriving a good yield from it, taking care of the environment, and, most of all, giving back to the community and to the agricultural industry.
The Wegmeyers’ farm, their pick-your-own strawberry and pumpkin operations spread over 250 acres at four locations—at their home near Lincoln; at Oatlands Historic House and Gardens; Gilbert’s Corner; and also an agri-tourism partnership with brothers Mark and Phillip Shenk in Clarke County, where they hold a big Wayside Farm Fun Pumpkin Festival, including a big corn maze, in the fall. Wegmeyer employs one full-time and 80 seasonal part-time workers.
Wegmeyer’s leadership roles include serving on the boards of the Virginia Strawberry Association, Southern States Cooperative, the Loudoun County Heritage Farm Museum, and as a former president of the Loudoun County Farm Bureau.
He brings a deep knowledge of the policy side of the business to his farming operation. Before becoming a full-time farmer three years ago, he had a 15-year career in agricultural policy in Washington, DC, where he served most recently as director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation.
He also served as a strategic marketing project manager at John Deere, a staff director for the House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, and a member of the staff for the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
That work experience gives Wegmeyer “a unique perspective he can draw from his experience as both a policymaker and a farmer,” stated Bobby Grisso, associate director of agriculture and natural resources for Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Former longtime Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent in Loudoun, Bill Harrison has known Wegmeyer for about eight years. “From the very first I was impressed by his dedication to producing healthy food and to agriculture,” Harrison said, as well as his knowledge of issues at the national level and locally.
Jeff Browning, president of Browning Equipment in Purcellville, and a longtime member and past president of the Loudoun Rural Economic Development Council, was equally impressed. Noting Wegmeyer had been a part-time strawberry farmer while still working in DC, Browning said when he went into full-time farming, “he went at it; he took a leap of faith, and has shown a dedication through all the trials and tribulations of agriculture.”
The award spotlights Loudoun’s diverse and successful agricultural industry, coming on the heels of a national Farm Bureau award earlier in the year for farmer and Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District’s, urban/ag conservationist Chris Van Vlack.
“This is yet another example of the new stuff that is so exciting about our rural agriculture,” Browning said.
Wegmeyer echoed that thought, noting it highlights “the types of farming we have in Loudoun and the quality. Being multifaceted, that’s what matters.”
Perhaps more importantly, he said, it’s a reminder that “We’ve been leaders [in Loudoun] for a long, long time—we have awesome soils, and despite growth challenges, we’ve seen a resurgence of agriculture,” he said, citing Loudoun’s lead in the local food, wine and beer industry.
While many think of Loudoun in terms of its rapid growth, his and Van Vlack’s awards serve to reiterate “what we’ve always known—the county has been able to alter and change its types of farming. You’ve got to adapt,” Wegmeyer said.