Citizens gather with decisionmakers for “Road Map for the Food Economy” Working Conference

Note: This article was originally published Feb 5, 2013.

Farmers, health advocates, agency officials and others from around the state came together on Tuesday, January 29 for the “Road Map for the Food Economy” Working Conference in Bridgeport, WV. Culminating a year of work and learning since a similar event last year, the conference showcased efforts to bring more healthy local food from farm to table in West Virginia.

The purpose of the event was to build new partnerships and create collaborative plans for action in 2013.  Lunch featured guest remarks from newly inaugurated Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick.  These were followed by a lunchtime celebration of recent progress the farm-to-table movement, reviewing the progress made in the past year.  This was led by Savanna Lyons, Program Director of the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, which hosted the conference.

“Across the board, it’s been quite a year for local food,” said Lyons.  “More school systems are buying food from local farmers, more high schools are starting up Agriculture Education and FFA programs, and more farmers markets are finding ways to include low-income customers.  The list goes on.  West Virginia isn’t usually thought of as a farming state, but it’s becoming a regional leader in growing its local food and farm sectors.”

Invited guests included policymakers, funders, top administrators and other officials who have influence in the state.  “We’re proud to have our elected officials involved,” said Lyons.  “They’ve been asking for ways to support the farm to table ‘movement,’ and want to hear from stakeholders like farmers and co-op managers, so we hope this conference will give them what they need to move forward.”

Four Food and Farm Working Groups showcased a year’s worth of accomplishments and findings in four issue areas: Local Food Aggregation & Distribution, School Gardens & Youth in Agriculture, Processing Infrastructure, and Improving Access to Health Local Food.  Follow-up discussions addressed ways in which state policy could better support farms and food businesses, as well as practical next steps for building the food economy.  This event built on the action plan laid out in West Virginia’s Road Map for the Food Economy in 2012.

The event was hosted by the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition and the West Virginia Community Development Hub.  The event was sponsored by Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, BB&T, blue moon fund, Appalachian Food Project, and One Foundation.  We are grateful to the group facilitators who contributed their time to this event: Kelly Nix, West Virginia University Extension Service; Betty Knighton, West Virginia Center for Civic Life; Jean Ambrose, Board of Directors, West Virginia Community Development Hub; Patti Miller, Panorama at the Peak Restaurant.

View the agenda here, which includes background information about the Working Groups.

Read about the event in the press:  “Mountain State checks its ‘road map for the food economy.” By Ann Ali. The Daily Journal, January 30, 2013.  Connect Bridgeport, WBOY, and WDTV also covered the story.

View the Working Group PowerPoint Presentations here:

Aggregation & Distribution Working Group – Jill Young of Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, Chair

School Gardens & Youth in Agriculture Working Group – Chuck Talbott and John Porter of WVU Extension Service, Co-Chairs

Processing Infrastructure Working Group – Nadine Perry, of Black Oak Holler Farm, Chair

Improving Access to Healthy Local Food – Savanna Lyons of the WV Food & Farm Coalition, Chair

View the Prezi Presentation which highlights examples of 2012 progress on the Road Map for the Food Economy.

View highlights from the all four Working Group presentations here.