The West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition is focused on building, supporting and strengthening local food economies with the interconnected goals of improving access to healthy, locally-produced food for all West Virginians and helping viable food and farm businesses to grow.
According to Savanna Lyons, Program Director, the Coalition is a statewide network trying to get more food from farm to table in West Virginia. The results include healthier people, greater business opportunities, stronger communities, and a unique economy reflecting the state's proud heritage of self-sufficient food production.
Lyons says that a local food economy supports the producer, but also supports other business along the value-chain, and has benefit for the community through education, accessibility and transparency — so people understand where their food is coming from.
In fact, if the amount of West Virginia-produced food consumed is increased by just 10%, the economic impact would be approximately $66 million in revenues that would stay inside the state instead of going food producers and processors elsewhere.
While the economic impact of a local food economy is relatively new in West Virginia, Lyons indicates that a lot is happening: small farms are scaling up production to meet local demand, there is a proliferation of farmers markets and more young people are taking advantage of high school agriculture education programs.
"In a place where entrepreneurship has not always been a focus of the community," adds Lyons, "the local food economy is giving people a way to think about entrepreneurship, especially in the agricultural program."
The Coalition would like to see more institutionalized business support for agriculture at the state level. They are currently part of an initiative called the value-chain cluster that provides one-on-one consulting to businesses such as accounting, marketing and business planning. It is a three year grant-funded program. After that, Lyons would like to see the program institutionalized in the state.
At the end of the day, a lively local food scene contributes to the quality of live and the quality of place.
As it says on the Coalition's website, the movement towards building robust local food economies is about more than just money. It's about sustaining a rich heritage of agricultural knowledge and land care that West Virginians have been stewarding for many years. It's about creating excitement and building structures for new economic opportunities that could not only strengthen our existing businesses, but lead to formation of new businesses and attract young agricultural entrepreneurs into our state to become a part of its rich landscape.