By Wendy Holdren
Counties across the state, including Fayette, Greenbrier and Monroe, will benefit from a new initiative that will help farmers and local food-related business owners take their businesses to the next level.
The Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF) will utilize a $900,000 federal grant and matching funds over the next three years to support local food value chain development across roughly one-third of the state.
“This new investment comes at an opportune time,” said Marten Jenkins, president of the NCIF. “As more buyers such as schools and restaurants take interest in the farm-to-table movement, more West Virginian businesses and farms are starting to explore new ways to process, market and distribute local products.”
The number of state farmers selling products directly to consumers increased by nearly 40 percent from 2002 to 2007, according to the USDA Census of Agriculture.
Tom McConnell, program leader for the West Virginia Small Farm Center at WVU Extension Service, said he sees much opportunity for business in local food.
“Local food can make a better life for the farmers, but it can also increase the job opportunities for communities that stand up and get involved by adding value, performing the marketing and trucking of all those things. One county school system in West Virginia spent $1.5 million on food, providing the equivalent of 57 full-time jobs. Now, will those be here or some place else? That’s for us to decide.”
A study called “West Virginia Local Food System: Seasonal Production Expansion and its Impacts” found that over 1,700 jobs could be created if all state residents consumed local produce through the growing season. Furthermore, additional jobs could be created by growing related industries, such as processing kitchens, slaughterhouses and distribution companies, all of which are part of the focus of the initiative.
One organization in Lewisburg, the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, has agreed to advise the program and help inform and educate business owners about its offerings.
Executive Director Steve Weir said helping local food succeed is the key to creating the 22nd century farm.
“The Greenbrier Valley Local Food Initiative’s goal is to re-regionalize markets and processing services to food producers using the best knowledge and technology available,” Weir said.
The NCIF will manage the grant with close guidance from local organizations and from a technical advisory committee of partner agencies, such as the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, the Office of Child Nutrition and the Office of Career and Technical Instruction at the West Virginia Department of Education, and the West Virginia Small Farm Center at WVU Extension Service.
For more information, visit www.ncifund.org.
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