The West Virginia Department of Agriculture and WVU Extension Service, in partnership with the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, held a free “Preparing for Market” workshop Thursday at the Beckley Dream Center.
The free workshop was held to provide food-producers with the tools they need to engage in more formal business relationships such as selling food to restaurants, schools or distributors. Attendees learned about pricing and invoicing and were given invoice templates and tools to help calculate their optimal price points.
Elizabeth Spellman, executive director for the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, explained the event. “This is the second in our series of local food expos that we are hosting throughout the state. We got a Specialty Crop Block Grant through the Department of Agriculture to host these and our intention is to introduce as many farmers to as many purchasers throughout the state as possible so that they can do volume sales and have more marketing opportunities.”
Greenbrier Nurseries’ Jim Monroe said he is excited about the opportunities that this program is facilitating. “Our company is Greenbrier Nurseries and we have a garden center just across the road, but we also have a garden center in Roanoke (Va.) and then we have a big production facility down in Summers County, in Talcott. We started back in the summer we had about 90 greenhouses that we weren’t using because the market for landscaping, since the economy has been down, has been falling. So we started growing lettuce greens. “Our big goal this summer is to work with the school systems in what is called Farm to School. We are adding 4,000 flats of lettuce to our production down in Talcott. That’s like 2 acres of lettuce. We’re going to grow enough lettuce so we can supply all of the school systems.”
David Richmond, Raleigh and Summers County West Virginia University Extension agent, said his job is to look for more producers to meet higher demand. “I’m the agricultural agent for WVU, I’m working a lot with the local producers in marketing strategies. My charge is to grow the growers, to develop more producers because we’ve got a heck of a market going. “People are wanting to eat healthier right now. What my agency is charged with is, if producers have problems or they need technical help on growing products, then that’s where we step in and provide assistance on educational programs on actually producing the crops.”
West Virginia Department of Agriculture Marketing Specialist Cynthia Martel helps producers with grants and supports them as they take their product to market.
She said this is part of block grant program provides funding for the portion of this activity that applies to sales of specialty crops which are essentially fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries, horticultural products, honey, maple syrup. “We are working on developing buy/sell relationships through this activity through the Food and Farm Coalition and it’s a way of getting the word out to our institutional buyers, our restaurateurs, our hospitals, our schools in addition to local restaurants that are interested in using local as a cornerstone of their menus.”
Beef producer Jennifer Jones, who owns Swift Level Land and Cattle, is involved with getting the word out about this program. “I’m a producer but I am also really involved with marketing product in the state for all farms so I’ve got a real vested interest in seeing everybody succeed and seeing West Virginia’s people get really good food. I produce all-grass beef that is traditionally dry-aged on my farm in Greenbrier County outside of Lewisburg. I have all cuts, I process my meat at a USDA facility, so we offer about 30 different cuts.” Lewis Payne, producer of Appalachian Farm Heirloom salt said, “We are producers, we make salt in Malden, West Virginia. We drilled a mine for brine, it’s an all-natural process, we allow the brine to dry in greenhouses so it crystallizes naturally.” Lewis Rhinehart, owner of the Secret Sandwich Society in Fayetteville, was on hand to find local items for his restaurant. “As many locally sourced ingredients as we can find. We use a lot of mixed greens. We use a lot of leafy spinach and vegetables, Roma tomatoes and eggplant and fresh herbs.”