By Matt Combs Register-Herald Reporter | Sept. 24, 2018
A large group of visitors embarks from the main barn area out into the fields of Sprouting Farms as they begin a tour of the grounds during a WVcraft (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training) open house-style event Sunday afternoon in Talcott.Brad Davis/ The Register- Herald
On an early fall day, at the end of the summer growing season, evidence was seen of something taking root. Along W.Va. 3 in Talcott, at Sprouting Farms, community members and farmers gathered to learn from one another. On Sunday, the nonprofit farm hosted a WVcraft farm tour coordinated by the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition.
WVcraft (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training) aims to create a farmer-led, farmer-to-farmer learning community. “It’s peer-to-peer training so beginning farmers, existing farmers and community members can come learn,” said Gabby Scrofano, the logistics and program coordinator for the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition.
While originally aimed at targeting beginning farmers, Scrofano said that the program has been adjusted to help the entire community. “It’s a way to create community,” Scrofano said, “so that farmers can have a community around them because it can be a siloed industry, unfortunately.”
According to Scrofano, the tour has taken place in four locations in the state so far this year and she is expecting the program to grow. While hopeful for continued growth, Scrofano acknowledged the difficulty that small farmers have in reaching a sustainable method and praised the work of Sprouting Farms.
Fritz Boettner, the director of Sprouting Farms, sees the Summers County nonprofit as an anchor farm for the region and even the state that helps build small, sustainable farms by taking the risks that they cannot take economically.
Funded by grant dollars, Sprouting Farms and other associated programs have developed a market and distribution infrastructure which other farms can tap into.
According to Boettner, while some of Sprouting Farms’ produce is consumed locally, other portions of the harvest make it to anywhere between Baltimore and South Carolina.
While excited to develop a profitable export of produce, Boettner is even more excited about developing a food market right here in West Virginia.
“It would be great to see the landscape here where a lot more of our foods that show up in grocery stores, schools and restaurants are grown much closer,” Boettner said. “The average distance traveled for a piece of food to land in a plate of food in West Virginia is around 1,500 miles. That gives you a sense of what it takes for that to happen when it could just be grown here and go 10 or 15 miles. Then it supports someone’s family here rather than in California or some far-off place.”
For Boettner, what the state needs is simply more people growing food in West Virginia, with those farmers able to make a living off of the produce they grow.
While the work is tough, Boettner said events such as Sunday’s farm tour can draw people in — if not to farm, then to look toward local growers when they shop.
“I think every little bit that we can do to show people how we’re growing, what we’re growing and make that connection between the community and the food that’s grown (is a good thing),” Boettner said.
The tour also allows Boettner to show off the farm to other farmers.
“Farmers love to see what other farmers are doing,” the director said.
With an eye toward the future, Boettner believes collaborative programs such as WVcraft will help out.
“The more that we can work together and know what each other are doing and see if we can leverage each other’s work to move the whole thing forward collectively, then I think that’s very helpful,” Boettner said.
Scrofano views programs like the farm tour as investments back into communities across West Virginia.
“This is a good way for beginning farmers to not only get some knowledge but also community members to get knowledge about food growing in their own community,” Scrofano said.