Note: This article was originally published June 12, 2013.
During May 21-23, the Appalachian Regional Commission as well as officials from USDA, the U.S. Dept. of Education, several congressional offices, and the national FFA program toured West Virginia to learn about our ripening local food movement. Stops included the Agriculture Education programs at Hampshire and Tucker High Schools, the Culinary program at Pierpont Community and Technical College, the local food system in Philippi, Morgantown Farmers Market, the Mid-Ohio Valley Growers Association and Roane County Farmers Market, and an export roundtable organized by the WV Dept. of Agriculture. Part of the purpose of the tour was to celebrate the new Value Chain Cluster Initiative, a program assisting WV business owners with “food business development from field to fork,” of which ARC is a funder.
The Food & Farm Coalition assisted by nominating sites for the tour, inviting press, and organizing the tour in Philippi, which showcased Heart and Hand’s Community Garden Market, Tygart Valley Growers Association, the gorgeous Sickler Farm, and local procurement at Alderson Broaddus College. We had great speakers including Tom McConnell, Bekki Leigh, Allen Arnold and Marten Jenkins.
Earl Gohl, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, is now calling WV a regional leader in local food systems. Another official said the tour was “the best time he had ever spent” and that he has a completely new view of the potential of West Virginia’s agricultural economy because of the excitement he saw. Representatives from congressional offices made similar comments. We hope the good press will encourage our federal and state agencies to consider farmers and food businesses as serious contributors to the WV economy, and support them.