We had the pleasure of meeting with Summers County farmers, as well as some folks from Alderson at our foodshed meeting in Hinton on July 25th. The good people at Chestnut Revival were able to cater a dinner for us on an evening they would normally be closed, and they even allowed us to hold our meeting in their quaintly beautiful restaurant. With an impressive buffet, including Paul and Lauren Brenner’s chickens, we all gathered to discuss the current local farming business. What was missing in the local produce business, and what could be done to make business a little better for the local farmer?
With Anthony Flaccavento there to lead the discussion, we began with identifying the gaps in the current system. Some of these gaps were problems that are experienced by local growers all around the country. Problems such as pricing, dealing in a market where the consumer expects a lower price than most growers can afford to give. Other problems were pretty specific to the Appalachian area, especially places like southern West Virginia. Things such as a lack of variety of produce, dairy products, and meat make it difficult to attract a customer to the local farmers market. In an ideal world, a consumer would want to do their grocery shopping at a local market before turning to national food sellers. Unfortunately, a lack of variety means most farmers market shoppers are coming only for the occasional item, and still doing the majority of their shopping elsewhere.
The meeting wasn’t entirely focused on negatives, however. The discussion was quickly shifted toward what opportunities we had to work with. Ideas for future improvements were discussed. The advantage of the current food system was that there is a lot of room for growth. While reaching new customers is always on a farmer’s mind, so is improving the options for current customers. How could we make it easier for people to get local produce, whether it is through CSAs in the community and in the workplace, or through creating winter farmers markets in the area? Could we prolong the current market season by offering cold storage of farmer’s products, increasing shelf life and giving the consumer more variety in the later months of the year? And what are we supposed to do with all this “ugly” produce that is perfectly good, but no major seller wants to buy? We found that farmers have the room to increase productivity. It is just a matter of growing the business so that it is profitable enough for the local farmer to produce more.
We hope all of this information will help us form new opportunities in the next year. The community is ready to become a haven for local food, and many people are willing to support change that helps local businesses grow.
– Cody Addison