With funding from the Virginia Environmental Endowment, the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) hosted its Wandering Virginia’s Waterways bus tour March 31-April 1st, 2022. This 2-day bus tour invited Virginia’s mainland local elected officials to take a trip across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and explore the Commonwealth’s lower Eastern Shore.

Coordinated by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the bus tour convened state and local representatives from over 12 of Virginia’s counties and municipalities to learn more about the Eastern Shore’s innovative agricultural practices and how they foster a resilient rural economy.

Elected officials gather on a potato field near Virginia Tech’s Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center to begin a tour of research and collection processes used to inform certain agricultural practices in Painter, VA on April 1, 2022.

Attendees of the bus tour included:

  • Richard Baugh, LGAC member and former Councilmember, City of Harrisonburg
  • Amy Dubois, LGAC member and former Supervisor, Mathews County
  • Jasmine Gore, LGAC Chair and Councilmember, City of Hopewell 
  • Andria McClellan, LGAC member and Councilmember, City of Norfolk 
  • Robin Rich-Coates, LGAC Member and Director, Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Steve Hill, Director, Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Jonathan Lyle, Chair, Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District 
  • Steven G. Meeks, Director, Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District
  • David L. Meyer, Mayor, City of Fairfax 
  • Cydny A. Neville, Councilmember, Town of Dumfries, and Chair, Northern Virginia Regional Commission
  • Joseph H. Stepp III, Director, Hanover-Caroline Soil and Water Conservation District 
  • P. David Tarter, Mayor, City of Falls Church 
  • Don Wells, Vice-Chair, Hanover-Caroline Soil and Water Conservation District
“The Eastern Shore of Virginia is rich in natural and cultural resources and I was thrilled to be able to help showcase the Shore during the Wandering Virginia’s Waterways bus tour,” said Robin Rich-Coates, Chair of the Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District (ESSWCD) and Virginia LGAC Member. “Farmers and watermen form the economic base of the Shore, and providing an opportunity for local government officials from across the state to see how land and water stewardship is practiced, was a proud moment for me. I have lived on the Shore for 44 years and served on the ESSWCD Board for 30 years and I enjoy the rural and small-town life. I want to do whatever I can to protect that way of life and help people appreciate the cultural heritage of the Eastern Shore.”

Elected officials learn more about the oyster farming process at Lambert Shellfish in Machipongo, VA on March 31, 2022.

Attendees toured sites that showcased the Eastern Shore’s diverse agricultural sector, both land, and seaside, and were able to view first-hand how practices have adapted from generation to generation:

  • Barrier Islands Center: To kick off the tour, Executive Director Sally Dickinson provided a background of the Eastern Shore’s history and culture and took attendees on a walkthrough of the Center’s grounds and museum.
  • Lambert Shellfish: Sitting along the Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of Hungar’s Creek, this local oyster farm distributes to restaurants locally and around the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Owner, Alex Lambert, walked attendees through the farm’s commercial oyster production and the benefits of sustainable aquaculture practices.
  • Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek: Owner, Jon Wehner, took attendees on a tour of the vineyard and its incorporation of sustainable infrastructure. As a second-generation winegrower, he also described how climate and proximity uniquely affect the flavors and production of Eastern Shore wine.
  • ShoreBreeze Farm: Kyle Sturgis, owner of this working fruit and vegetable farm and wholesaler took attendees on an exploration of the beneficial practice of hydroponics.
  • Virginia Tech Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center: Attendees boarded a trolley to hear from a curated group of agricultural specialists led by Director, Professor, and Extension Specialist, Mark Reiter, Ph.D. Designed to support the growth and production of local crops through applied research, graduate students shared their analyses of invasive species, mulch management, and the usage of drone technology, to name a few.

Jon Wehner leads a tour of Chatham Vineyard in Machipongo, VA on March 31, 2022.

The tour included dinner at the Oyster Farm with state leaders: Clara Vaughn on behalf of Congresswoman Elaine Luria, Delegate Robert Bloxom, and Senator Lynwood Lewis. Technical assistance providers also joined the group to offer guidance on how implementation in local communities can be further supported.

Senator Lynwood Lewis and Delegate Robert Bloxom connect with elected official attendees in Cape Charles, VA on March 31, 2022

“Being able to visit various establishments on the Eastern Shore to learn how practices are already being implemented while gaining an understanding of how various operations require specific resources as well as how they contribute in disparate ways to improving the health of the Bay proved very valuable,” said Jake Kline, Bay Outreach Coordinator at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
“Even for those of us who work agriculture and water quality issues, The Waterways Tour was invaluable because we visited a part of the state with unique challenges and opportunities. The various tour group members brought their local perspectives which further enhanced the value of the tour,” said Steve Hill, Madison County Director, Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District.

Graduate student at Virginia Tech shares the benefits and challenges of managing cover crops in Painter, VA on April 1, 2022.

Since its debut event in 2019, The Alliance’s Wandering Waterways series was designed to create an interactive space for local government officials to learn more about environmentally sustainable practices that influence the growth and restoration of local communities, resources, and economies. Part of this experience is having the opportunity to convene with their peers across municipal lines to share priorities and develop not only a deeper understanding of one another but also how and why relative decisions are made. Wandering Waterways hopes to connect the dots and reinforce the commitment of local leaders to undertake actions that protect and restore both their communities as well as the Chesapeake Bay region.

Local officials share perspectives as they explore the Eastern Shore in Machipongo VA on March 31, 2022.

“The Wandering Virginia’s Waterways tour was an invaluable experience for Virginia’s elected officials,” said Mayor David Meyer, City of Fairfax. “The tour gave all participants a greater appreciation for the opportunities and challenges of various Virginia businesses whose livelihoods are linked to the future of the Chesapeake Bay. Strengthening the long-term viability of the Bay is critical for economic development, jobs creation, and community sustainability on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The insights gained are a must for all leaders in Virginia.” 
“I truly appreciated the unique opportunity to discuss environmental issues with elected officials throughout the Commonwealth, exploring ways to be a friend to the Bay, and learning more about hydroponic farming, as it has piqued my interest as a great option for urban farming in our region,” said Councilwoman Cydny A. Neville of Dumfries. 

Kyle Sturgis discusses the processes of lettuce growth in his greenhouse at ShoreBreeze Farm in Cape Charles, VA on April 1, 2022.

“The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s efforts to innovatively connect local leaders to the Bay watershed has a true return on investment. Not only are elected officials able to fellowship amongst their peers, but we are able to have meaningful conversations related to making legislative and funding decisions to support both local and Bay-wide restoration efforts,” said Jasmine Gore, City of Hopewell Councilmember and LGAC Chair. “Affording us the opportunity to engage this multi-faceted dialogue within a creative format, gives us the chance to experience the Bay hands-on and brainstorm as a unit. I cannot wait to explore other areas of the Bay and the communities my peers are proud to call home.”

LGAC Chair, Jasmine Gore on the Chesapeake Bay in Machipongo, VA on March 31, 2020.

For more information about the Wandering Virginia’s Waterways bus tour, or access to photos, contact lgac@allianceforthebay.org.


About the Virginia Environmental Endowment (VEE): Since 1997 the Endowment has maintained the goal of improving the quality of Virginia’s environment. As a nonprofit and independent grant-making foundation, VEE also works collaboratively to advance environmental literacy, establish land trusts and conservation networks, as well as develop meaningful facilities such as a statewide mediation center.

About LGAC: The Local Government Advisory Committee is a strong and trusted voice for local governments within the Chesapeake Bay Program with the primary goal to advise the Executive Council on how to engage local governments by sharing the views and insights of local elected officials and enhancing the flow of information among local governments.

The Alliance’s Local Government Initiative Team (left to right), Laura Cattell Noll, Patti Bohnsack, Ola-Imani Davis and Jennifer Starr in Mechanicsville, VA on March 31, 2022.