CHARLESTON — The W.Va. Farm and Food Coalition presented its legislative agenda to the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development Tuesday morning, as lawmakers continue to hold interim meetings prior to the legislative session.
Adam Taylor, project coordinator, said the coalition has three issues to further in the next 60 days:
• Adopting a Farm-to-Food Bank bill that helps food banks collect and distribute locally grown foods. Taylor said food banks constantly need to procure more food and farmers donating their left over and unsold products, “getting those fresh products into their hands is essential.”
Seven states have incentives for such programs, Taylor said. Kentucky already has passed a law that has meant 3 million pounds of produce donated to food banks, and farmers got $5 million in incentives.
• Home-based micro-processing, or canning at home for resale. Taylor said this cottage foods industry could close the gap on food deserts in the state, where grocery stores have closed and residents have to drive several miles to purchase food.
Taylor said each home kitchen would be inspected by the county health department and the products would be labeled under Department of Agriculture guidelines. Home canners who want to sell their goods would be required to obtain a food handler’s permit.
“Pressure canning is pretty much all you have to do,” Taylor said. “People have been doing this for generations. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to see foods at a farmers market.”
• Setting a benchmark and increased price preferences for local procurement. Taylor said local producers cannot match prices with large companies that wholesale foods. However, he said, vegetables produced locally would be fresher and have a longer shelf-life because of being fresh-picked.
Taylor said the coalition will ask legislators to amend state code to increase price preferences from 5 percent to 8 percent to allow state farmers to have better opportunities to compete in the bidding process.
“Farm-to-School is very successful in this state,” Taylor said. He said the coalition wants farmers to be able to supply prisons and hospitals with fresh food.