Though famous for its rugged hills, West Virginia has enough fertile farmland to supply its own residents with all their fresh fruit and vegetable needs during the growing season – and to stimulate new jobs and millions of dollars in local sales.
According to a groundbreaking study, if West Virginia farmers grew enough fruits and vegetables to meet the in-season fresh produce needs of all state residents, such a shift would also generate 1,723 new jobs and contribute an additional $ 35.7 million in local sales. The study was released by Downstream Strategies, LLC together with West Virginia University, West Virginia University Extension Service and its WV Small Farm Center, and the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition.
The study, “West Virginia Food System Assessment: Seasonal Production and its Impacts” also finds that growing the produce would require less than 10% of West Virginia’s undeveloped prime farmland..
“According to our study, if West Virginians bought their fruits and vegetables from local farmers during the growing season, about $190 million would stay in the state instead of flowing beyond its borders,” explains explained Downstream Strategies President Evan Hansen. “These locally spent dollars would circulate in the economy as farmers spend more at supply stores and on other goods and services.”
For farmers, the study also shows big opportunities to capture revenue from products that are currently under-produced in the state, such as greens, mushrooms, onions, potatoes and strawberries. $6.3 million in consumer dollars could be available from greens alone.
“We hope this study will spur conversation about further supporting West Virginia agriculture,” said Savanna Lyons, Program Manager for the WV Food & Farm Coalition. “Many people think our state doesn’t have enough farmland to grow a significant portion of its own food, but we are very agriculturally productive, and have plenty of room to grow.”
The findings show the need both for more farms and for the growth of existing farms. Currently each vegetable farmer in West Virginia plants an average of 1 acre of vegetables (excluding pumpkins and sweet corn, which are already produced in enough quantity to meet demand). For the current farms to meet all seasonal demand, each farmer would need to plant 9 more acres. This highlights the importance of protecting existing prime farmland from non-agricultural uses, investing in new farmers to help them get started, and enabling current farms to grow.
The study was released at the Food & Farm Coalition's recent “Road Map for the Food Economy” event in Bridgeport. It is the first in a multi-part series funded through the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition by the blue moon fund. The next phase of the study will address, among other things, local distribution of fruits, vegetables and meats to WV consumers.
Click here to read the complete report.
Click here to view a slideshow summarizing the findings of the report. This presentation was given at the 2012 WV Small Farm Conference by Dr. Cheryl Brown, Associate Professor of Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics at West Virginia University's Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. Dr. Brown was a key member of the reseach team for the study.