WVU Extension Agent –
Agriculture & Natural Resources, Putnam County
To WVU Putnam County Extension Agent Chuck Talbott, the matter of food security involves much more than padlocking the breadbox or safeguarding the pantry.
Rather, food security hinges on revitalizing the West Virginia agricultural community.
Small farms have been in decline across the country for decades. The current population of small farmers in West Virginia has depleted from 30 percent of the population to a mere 1 percent, said Talbott.
“Food security has become a concern, and it is the responsibility of all West Virginia citizens to combat it, whether they are small farmers producing the food or local consumers supporting them,” said Talbott.
For Talbott, farming is a way of life. He was raised on a small farm in upstate New York, which afforded him the general knowledge of farming that prepared him for his academic future. He holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Colorado State University, a master’s degree in dairy science from Virginia Tech, and a doctorate degree in animal breeding and genetics from North Carolina State University.
Before joining West Virginia University Extension Service in 2008, Talbott worked in a variety of agricultural positions, including a spot with Heifer Project International, where he worked with small farmers in Cameroon, West Africa, for six years.
Upon his return to the U.S., Talbott taught animal science at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro for 12 years, during which time he ran a small-scale hog producer project at the university. His team explored options for small-scale farmers to make a living without buying into big time agricultural business.
“The United States Department of Agriculture essentially told farmers to ‘get big or get out,’” said Talbott. “Rather with being concerned with how small-farmers could compete, we worked on methods for doing things in a different fashion that still allowed for success.”
Talbott found the solution in special feeding practices.
“We focused on the flavor of the meat,” said Talbott. “We were concerned with animal wellbeing and proper nutrition and grazing practices.”
Today, Talbott continues to manage a small-farm in Mason County, and harvests 200 pastured-raised hogs annually. According to The Charleston Gazette, meat he produces rivals high-end European hams and charcuterie when dry-cured for two years.
During his time with WVU Extension Service, Talbott has been involved with multiple programs in Putnam County, including a local farmers market and the Youth Safe Farm program, a community-based effort to educate and empower underserved Appalachian farm families to reduce farm injuries to youth.
Agricultural education for youth, consumers and local small farmers is his primary initiative.
“I want people to realize that the price of food at the grocery store depends on cheap fossil fuels and electricity,” said Talbott. “When the prices of these resources soar, obtaining food locally is going to be much cheaper than bringing it in from far away.”
Talbott also emphasizes that both flavor and nutrient quality is significantly greater in locally grown foods.
“Fruits and vegetables are being picked two weeks before they are ripe, and are left to ripen in boxes on a truck. What people don’t realize is that many of the key nutrients deteriorate as the plant ages,” Talbott said.
Talbott knows that depending on other states for our produce could backfire.
“That’s why we need farmers for local production and we need to get our youth interested in agriculture,” he said. “We need people growing their own food rather than counting on the grocery store each week.”
Talbott is currently developing curriculum for a farm to school program to educate youth on the importance of agriculture.
“The West Virginia 4-H program does a lot to educate youth, but agricultural education also needs to take place in the schools,” said Talbott.
Additionally, he is working to secure funding for a junior master gardeners program, which will be structured to work with the current WVU Extension Master Gardeners program.
WVU Master Gardeners are a group of highly skilled gardeners who volunteer their time and knowledge to help enhance their local communities. Their work in local communities equates to millions of dollars of work each year.
Talbott has big plans for Putnam County in the coming years. While cultivating the growing initiative for small farms and locally grown produce is important, his priority lies with youth education.
“We have to get these kids more excited about agriculture” said Talbott. “Our future may someday depend on it, and after all, everybody loves to eat,” he said.
For additional information on small farms in West Virginia, visit the WV Small Farm Center page. Additional questions may be directed to Chuck Talbott at (304) 586-0217, or firstname.lastname@example.org.