Demand for locally-grown fruits and vegetables has increased and a new study of West Virginia’s food systems shows that the state has the potential to expand and profit from farming.
The West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition enlisted the help of the West Virginia University Extension Service, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, WVU Extension’s Small Farm Center and Downstream Strategies. It commissioned the study with resources from the blue moon fund, an international organization dedicated to preserving the sustainable quality of life on earth.
The results show that crop farming can be a viable business option in the state and it’s an opportunity that could be missed if not invested in and protected, according to Daniel Eades, WVU Extension community economics specialist.
“We have enough farm land for crops without disturbing the existing land used by cow-calf farms in the state,” Eades said. “As long as we devote this land to farm development over residential expansion then we can see serious economic impacts of farms as small businesses.”
Eades says that everyone from chefs to school board members want to keep food costs down and keep profits within their own communities, a prime example being the Farm to School initiative, which uses locally-sourced foods in school cafeterias.
“When you think about economic potential you have to think beyond just seller to consumer,” Eades explains. “Consider the job growth that comes from processing these items, transporting them, marketing them we have an opportunity to add money and jobs into our own communities.”
The USDA Agriculture Census statistics indicate that only about 20 percent of all farms in the state see annual sales beyond $10,000. The group suggests that having more business training opportunities for farmers, as well as making small business loans and grants available to these farmers, can help make farms a more profitable business opportunity in the state.
Other suggestions from the food systems study were presented by the Food and Farm Coalition to the West Virginia Legislature’s Agriculture and Agri-business Interim Committee. These suggestions included revisiting co-op laws, preserving viable farm land, increasing institutional buying and providing more training for farmers.
“Right now the demand outweighs the supply,” Eades explained. “Farming shouldn’t just be a hobby or pastime for West Virginians, with proper planning and legislation it can really be considered part of the state’s economic future.”
Connecting the people of West Virginia to the University’s resources and programs is the primary goal of WVU Extension Service and its 55 offices throughout the state. Local experts, like WVU Extension’s agents and specialists, work to help improve the lifestyles and well-being of youths, workforces, communities, farms and businesses through trusted research in the counties in which they serve.
The WVU Davis College is a close partner of WVU Extension, conducting research into a wide range of aspects of agriculture and natural resources, from sustainable production to economics and marketing.
To learn more about WVU Extension programs, visit www.ext.wvu.edu, or contact your local office of the WVU Extension Service.