(804) 290 1158
P.O. Box 27552, Richmond, VA 23261
The Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability (VA FAIRS) is Cooperative Development Center and a 501(c)(3) organized in Virginia. VA FAIRS offers technical assistance to producers and producer groups starting or transitioning into value added agriculture.
Christopher I. Cook is the Center’s Executive Director. He is as an agricultural enterprise development advisor with a broad range of planning, business creation and development skills, as well as strategic expertise. Mr. Cook has over 30 years agricultural experience including organizing and developing farmer-owned start-up businesses. He has a strong background in facilitating agricultural value added entities through strategic planning and business capacity building.
He has co-authored several published documents, including USDA Rural Development Service Report 78 titled “The Role of Food Hubs in Local Food Marketing”, and has helped to organize, provided advice on the complex issues involved in the formation and governance of New Generation Cooperatives. He has led efforts for other feasibility studies in wine production, Christmas trees, organic chicken production, bio-digesters, and meat processing local food initiatives. Additionally, Mr. Cook has aided in the development of marketing plans for 9 nascent cooperative enterprises.
Mr. Cook has significant experience with obtaining grant funding and other sources of financing as well as grant administration and management. He has conducted numerous training workshops to assist rural businesses in obtaining financing through grants, loans, and other sources, and has personally worked on numerous projects that have enabled clients to obtain millions of dollars in grant funds to further their business ventures.
Mr. Cook's work experience covers two continents. He farmed in the United Kingdom and was Managing Director of a 1,000 acre farm producing beef and small grains. His education includes the Certified Economic Development Financial Professional from the National Development Council, and a Masters Business Administration from the College of William & Mary. He holds a Post-baccalaureate certificate in Accounting from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Jim Matson is part of the center's part time technical staff. Mr. Matson has a passion for helping rural businesses, whether they are looking to start a new business or wanting to expand their current operation. He is a business advisor with expertise in many areas involved with marketing and business organization. Mr. Matson has more than 25 years marketing, developing, researching, writing, and teaching experience in management for private, government, and non-profit organizations. He is currently the owner and lead consultant for Matson Consulting where he uses his years of national and international experience to bring his passion to life. In 2001, Mr. Matson created Matson Consulting to specialize in helping rural businesses in a variety of industries. The firm’s major project areas include feasibility studies, business plans, strategic plans, marketing strategies, grants, and proposals. Mr. Matson has obtained over 25 years of professional experience, half of which involved running his own consulting firm. Previous positions include working in and out of the United States with various organizations around the world including Uruguay, Peru, Argentina, Spain, and Japan.
As part of his international professional experience, Mr. Matson worked as an Agribusiness Specialist in Bolivia. While in this position, Mr. Matson gained experience in agricultural marketing, trade promotion, grant management, strategic planning, and association strengthening. This position allowed him to gain valuable insight into the document creation process and experience working with grants and the application process.
Within the United States, Mr. Matson was a part of the USDA Rural Business Cooperative Service in Washington D.C. where he worked as an Agricultural Marketing Specialist. Most of Mr. Matson’s expertise and knowledge of feasibility studies stems form his position with the USDA where he conducted and reviewed feasibility studies, marketing strategies, and business plans of producer-owned businesses. This has allowed him to gain valuable insight into the components of these documents and the best uses for businesses.
Julia Schlosser Clark is the FAIRS Project Manager. Hired in 2013, her current role involves assisting FAIRS clients and providing support to the Executive Director. Some of her key tasks include writing business plans and grant applications, building financial models, researching rural/economic development issues, and conducting client meetings.
Over the past several years, she has written several successful value added producer grant applications, bringing more than $1,500,000 in grant dollars to Virginia producers. She has also written several business plans, including building financial models, for Virginia producers. Additionally, Ms. Schlosser creates VA FAIRS marketing materials and manages the Foundation's website and social media accounts.
In her previous role, she served as the VA FAIRS Assistant, compiling reports, writing key documents, and other administrative duties. Ms. Schlosser graduated with honors in 2012 from Houghton College with a B.S. in Business Administration. As an undergraduate, she was selected to be part of the Houghton College Student Consulting Group and was a recipient of the Reynolds-Santor Women in Business Scholarship.
Molly Harris operates the Lulus Local Food program, connecting local food producers
with customers online. She is the newest member of the FAIRS team, but brings more than a decade of experience
in local foods to the Center. In the fall of 2008, Harris recognized the need for farmers in Virginia to have a venue that would allow them to sell
their products throughout the winter season and worked with a group of farmers making weekly deliveries to a local restaurant.
Harris helped develop Lulus Local Food, a direct marketing program to assist farmers in increasing sales of local foods. Taking this program online allowed her to open the program up to hundreds of families purchasing from over 75 farms each week. Today, the program serves as an innovative solution to meet the farmer’s mandate for increased sales. Molly provides farmer workshops and training to producers.
Harris is involved in many aspects of the local food movement in Virginia, including serving on the executive committees for the Virginia Food System Council. She formerly served on the executive committee for the Virginia Farmers Direct Marketing Association; she was a founding member of the Virginia Farm to School Working Group, a participant in the Richmond City Mayor’s Food Council and was a leader of the Richmond Area Buy Fresh Buy Local Chapter. She is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Tony Banks has served for more than 20 years in his current position. He specializes in producer trainings, surveys, and workshops. In the past three years he has facilitated strategic discussion of new market opportunities for producers in Southside VA; assisted cooperatives with feasibility studies and the creation of business plans; mentored small businesses during their formation by assisting them in the solution of by-law creation issues and finance acquisition; facilitated strategic planning for businesses, associations and industry sectors, and helped organize three cooperatives. He also has expertise in dealing with agricultural value-added development projects, emerging markets and direct marketing. He has extended management experience serving in a variety of leadership roles for private business, associations, non-profit corporations and local government.
Previously, Mr. Banks managed several environmental programs and grants for the VA Department of Conservation and Recreation, and worked for a wholesale/retail fertilizer and farm supply firm. Mr. Banks earned a B.S. in Agronomy and Agricultural Economics from Virginia Tech.
David Priddy, CPA, CGMA is treasurer of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. and all affiliated and associated companies. In addition, he is senior vice president of accounting and business services.
Mr. Priddy previously served as Farm Bureau’s assistant treasurer. He has more than 30 years of experience in the fields of domestic and international accounting as both a public accountant and in private industry.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Virginia Commonwealth University and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Virginia Society of CPAs.