Have you noticed more rabbit meat available at your community farmers market or consignment store? A rule change approved by the Secretary of State in Summer 2015 made producing rabbit more economically viable for farmers in West Virginia. Previous to the rule change, rabbit meat was required to be processed in a licensed facility. The expense of processing and the limited access to licensed facilities greatly hindered rabbit producers in West Virginia. The rule change opened up a new market opportunity for farmers and allowed for a flavorful, lean meat to be available to consumers.
In the 2015 Legislative Session, SB 237 passed to allow the processing of rabbits outside a licensed facility. The rule allows for up to 1,000 rabbits to be processed on-farm per year.. Additional rule requirements include that the animal be processed on the premises in which the animal was raised, the premise be registered with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, and limits the sale of meat to farmers markets and consignment markets.
Fast forward to 2017 Legislative Session. The West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition is representing over 30 rabbit producers in West Virginia who are currently selling through farmers markets and consignment stores, but wish to increase production and sales through local restaurants. The restaurant market is anticipated to offer farmers a significant increase in sales as rabbit meat becomes a more accepted and savored dish for chefs in the United States.
The 2017 proposed rule change to Title 61 Series 23D Inspection of Nontraditional, Domestic Animals will:
The health and safety of our farmland is vital to the success of a resilient, local food economy in West Virginia. The West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition partners with organizations working across the state to protect West Virginia’s soil, water, air, and wildlife. In 2016, the Coalition supported WV-Surface Owners’ Rights Organization’s Land Reunion Act with the efforts to reunite surface estates with mineral estates in West Virginia.
What are Severed Mineral Estates?
It is estimated that 90% of estates are severed in Southern West Virginia threatening the health, safety, and the livelihood of our farmers. Current legislation subjects landowners with estates severed prior to 1983 to the actions of the mineral estate owner. The legislation classifies surface owners as “servient” and mineral estate owners as “dominant”. The Oil and Gas Production Damage Compensation Act of 1983 attempts to protect surface owners’ rights by equalizing the rights of surface and mineral estate owners. Additionally, the Act allows compensation to surface owners for five types of harms: (1) lost income and expenses; (2) the market value of lost crops; (3) damages to any water supply that was in use; (4) damages to personal property; and (5) compensation for any reduction in value of the surface lands the driller used.
2017 Legislative Session
WV-SORO is reintroducing the Land Reunion Act in the 2017 Legislative Session. The Act creates an opportunity for surface owners to reunite the mineral estate with the surface estate by purchasing the mineral rights at a “tax sale”. The landowner would no longer be subject to the actions of an outside group interested in extracting minerals from the property.
The West Virginia Farmers Market Association (WVFMA) and the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition (WVFFC) are partnering to reintroduce the Cottage Foods Bill, also know as the “Pickle Bill”, in the 2017 Legislative Session. West Virginia cottage food laws currently allow for breads, pastries, candy (brittle), snacks (pretzels and granola), and preserves (jams and jellies) to be sold direct to consumer at farmers markets and events only. The “Pickle Bill” expands the current cottage food law to enable home-based micro-processing of low-acid preserves (ie. green beans, ramps, tomatoes) to be sold at farmers markets, farm stands, consignment farmers markets, online farmers markets, fairs, and festivals.
As of 2014, farmers markets in West Virginia account for an estimated $9 million in direct sales, which is an increase from $5 million in 2012. They are a primary market outlet for our small, diversified farmers in West Virginia and provide communities with access to nutritious, locally grown food, a place to support and interact with community members, and an attraction for visitors. The “Pickle Bill” would enable farmers to increase their year-round income, reduce food waste, and allows consumers to access locally grown vegetables throughout the year.
The Cottage Foods Bill includes:
Sponsored by Agriculture Committee Chairman Senator Robert Karnes, provides for bidding preferences for local farm vendors in West Virginia with the goal at least 15% of procurement sourced from West Virginia farm vendors by 2025.
The bill expands preferential bidding in state purchasing to include resident farm vendors, in addition to resident veteran vendors, nonresident vendors who employ 100 or more state residents, and other special groups.
Joey Aloi, with the Kanawha Institution for Social Research and Action (KISRA), wrote an Op-Ed last year advocating for this bill in the Charleston Gazette-Mail in November 2015.
The Farm to Food Bank bill (or as it’s known in the more long-winded Senate, the “Establishing personal and corporate income tax credits for farmers donating edible agricultural products” bill), would provide tax credits for farmers who donate or sell fresh produce to food banks.
Modeled after similar legislation in Kentucky, the bill would serve to incentivize farmers to donate unharvested or unsold produce to food banks.
This type of tax incentive is useful because there are barriers to getting fresh food into food banks – most immediately the transport costs that farmers bear to move their produce to centralized food donation sites.