Doug Fabbioli is concerned about the future of the rural economy, as cities’ areas expand into farm fields. Fabbioli owns a winery in Loudoun County, Virginia. He decided to support the agricultural economy in his own way. He established The New AG School. The free school hopes to raise the next generation of farmers.
Farming is hard work, but Fabbioli says young people would love it if they knew its joys. But, he says, to succeed in farming, they will need specialized skills.
That is what Fabbioli hopes to teach at his new school. The goal is to fill the immediate need for farm workers, but also to create future leaders who can teach others in years to come.
The New AG School has many different students.
“We have some younger folks that are either right out of high school or even in high school,” Fabbioli says. He also has some students who have completed college but cannot find jobs, as well as older people who want to try farming.
Olga Goadalupe Alfoseca says the program is helping her find the right career. “I learned a lot…my dream is maybe I can plant my own plants and start my... business.”
Liam Marshall-Brown who left college, finds farm work interesting. “It’s fun,” he says. “I mostly did restaurants before…you feel trapped after a while, doing the same thing over and over and over again. It’s just nice to be outside. Pretty much you’re doing something new every day.”
But not all work is outdoors. Students study five different subjects, everything from cleaning, horticulture, hospitality, to leadership and business.
And the training is not complete until they learn about the machines they use every day; how they work and how to fix them.
As you might expect from a winery owner, wine production is also part of the educational program.
Winemaker Meaghan Tardif is a mentor at the school... she teaches students winemaking – and leadership skills.
“My favorite part about being a mentor is I always give the student a chance to teach someone else,” Tardif explains. “Leadership is everywhere. It’s not just in the work. It’s not just your employees, but it helps you throughout your life.”
The experience has caused Marshall-Brown to find a future in agriculture.
“I would like to be that, but I still have a lot to learn to be able to do that. Hopefully I’ll get there, and I’ll run my own farm one day and have people work under me.”
That pleases Fabbioli, who says it is good for the community to have more farmers.
He notes Loudoun Country’s position as one of the richest areas in the nation. He says the goal of those living in the community is to save the land in western Loudoun County as green space.
In his words, “We can do that by farming, but we need more farmers very much. So, giving people the opportunity to learn, put more people to work. It may also keep the cars off the highways because they’re living locally and they’re working locally.”
That is what the New AG School hopes to do -- grow the next “crop” of skilled farmers.
I’m Susan Shand