Jennifer Williams is the West Virginia University Extension
Service’s agriculture and natural resources director. She’s excited about
increasing interest in agriculture in West Virginia.
“Agriculture and the local food movement is a growing sector
in West Virginia,” Williams says,
“Opportunities for farmers to make a viable living through the Farm to School
Movement is just—the opportunities are endless. We’re excited that that is
really getting moving in West Virginia,
and opportunities, too, for West Virginians to feed West
In an effort to serve the land-grant institution’s mission
of promoting access to education to meet the needs of West Virginians, the
Extension Services office is offering six, six-session workshops, held in
locations throughout West Virginia. The first of these begins Monday, September
17 in Doddridge County.
Dee Singh-Knights is an assistant professor of Agriculture
and Resource Economics at WVU and one of the organizers of Annie’s Project in West Virginia. She says the project has been developed in
response to growing needs within the state.
“As Extension educators, with the WVU Extension Service,
we’re always interested in responding to emerging needs in our state and in our
region,” Singh-Knights explains, “and so I think this project meets two needs:
one, is that we’re responding to the increased demographics in terms of women
becoming principal owners of farms in West Virginia; and secondly, the need to
transform these farming operations into viable agro-businesses in West
Singh-Knights says from 2002 to
2007, West Virginia the number of female farm-owners or operators increased by
about three times the national average, or 31 percent. She says today one in
three farms in the state is owned or operated by a woman, and while the average
age of the West Virginian farmer is 57, there is growing interest from younger
“We think that a lot of these
women are actually inheriting these farms as widows, but we have an
overwhelming amount of them that are actually turning to the farm as a viable
career. We’re really inspired with the interest in this program to see the
number of young women who actually want to register and learn about the risks
involved in farming.”
Singh-Knights says program curriculum is based on the
national Annie’s Project that was launched in 2009, but that the Extension
Services further developed the program to fit West Virginia’s challenges with
the help of partnering organizations like the state’s Department of
Agriculture, the Farm Credits of the Virginias, the West Virginia Food and Farm
Coalition, as well as the Farm Service Agency.
“Subsequent to the training, we will actually work with the
women to provide mentorship and support for a period of six months to a year,
so that they can actually implement what has been learned on the project.”
In addition to that, Singh-Knights says Extension Services
is trying to create a network of female farmers who can share best practices
and help inform each other to better negotiate in the market.
She says teaching women about risk management is one of the
core components of training.
“We think the way to build these viable agro-businesses in
the state is for women, and farmers in general, to understand the inherent
risks involved in agriculture. It’s inevitable. It’s there. But if we learn to
manage it—if we learn to identify it first and be able to manage it, then we
reduce the impacts of these risks.”
Women will also have the chance to study business
management, record keeping, financial analysis, and identification of farm and
food safety issues.