The goal is to have an interactive map identifying the
various food production and distribution potential throughout West
Virginia by November. Principal at Downstream Strategies, Fritz Boettner, explains that organizations have been assessing
local food production to understand what is being produced, how it’s being
produced and distributed, and what the economic value is.
“There’s lots of land in West Virginia,”
Boettner says. “It’s very fertile. It’s very good farmland. Even with the
terrain there’s still plenty of land available to grow crops. So I think a lot
of our work is with the notion that this could be an expanding, economic boom
for the state.”
Boettner says research demonstrates a high demand for
locally produced food from both individuals and institutions. He says the food
map is geared toward producers and potential farmers. The goal is to help them
make informed decisions.
“For example, if I did have a farm what could I sell and
where could I sell it? Who are the people that I need to contact? And what is
the landscape like? Everything from, is it flat, does it have good soil—all
those types of information we’re able to map and they’re able to zoom in and
determine if it would be a good spot. We’re trying to really encourage people
to either purchase farms or turn less productive land into food production.”
Boettner says the map will be user-friendly for not only
producers but also consumers and policy makers. He says in this modern age of
farming techniques, more can be done on fewer acres and that translates to
significant potential economic growth.
“All the different folks across the country are now growing
in high tunnels and extending the season and doing very sort of compact
farming, as well as rotating crops and being more thoughtful about how they’re
farming to get more production out of their land without stripping it of its
nutrients or causing any sort of issues like that. So it doesn’t take a lot and
our reports are able to quantify that.”
He says some of the data used to create this map may
“So, for example, what if West
Virginia farmers grew enough vegetables and fruit to
meet 75% of the fresh seasonal produce needs of all West Virginians?
And this isn’t everything, this is just meeting those seasonal needs like
tomatoes in the summertime.
"A percent increase by acreage would mean you would
be looking at a 212 percent increase in vegetables, and 11 percent increase in fruit. So that
calculates out to an additional 5,000 acres in vegetables and fruits would need
to be used, creating something around 1,300 new jobs—519 in farming and 398 in
food and beverage retail—with additional sales of $93.9 million.”
Boettner says in a country that has encouraged and supported the development of “Big Ag,” WV is better suited to cultivate a
diverse, small farm economy and that, with some planning and support,
agro-businesses could be sustaining.
“I would love to see families supporting themselves on it
and I think it’s very possible. I think it’s going to take a combined
effort—like if we had ways to help folks through value-added because there’s so
much cost involved with trying to do it on your own.
“If, for example, you had five or six dairy cows producing
100 gallons of milk every two days, but you don’t have the money to process it
or do all the things that are required in order to sell your milk. But if there
was a place you could take it with other folks who could work together and have
this central facility, sort of like community kitchens or any of these other
facilities that help that along.
“I think the potential is very big.”
Boettner says the food map will be made available on the
West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition web page by November.