The Path Forward: Farms for Health
Senate Bill 383: Healthy Food Crop Block Grant
The legislature is currently in session, and while many bills are being introduced, there is one bill that produce farmers like ourselves, are eager to see pass. Senate Bill 383, Healthy Food Block Grant (SB 383), grants specialty crop farmers the needed funding to expand crop production, in order to provide a greater volume and variety of produce for healthy food initiatives (HFI), working to make fresh and local produce more accessible to communities. With funding, we and other farmers can use our passion for farming for a greater impact on West Virginia.
Our passion for farming has become rooted in the community, where we started our farm, The Garden Path, 43 years ago. As long-time members of the community, we have seen the need for healthy, local produce that can be accessible to all. A few years ago, we became engaged with the HFI programs in the area and have been able to use our skills and passion to help build a bridge between having accessible locally grown produce to these programs.
One such program, the Kids Pop Up Markets brings together a collaborative mix of WVU Extension services, West Virginia Department of Agriculture, teachers, nutritionists, healthcare providers, and farmers, to bring farmers markets directly to schools. The pop-up markets have become a popular success as they promote and educate students across West Virginia about healthy food and eating habits. By participating in this program, we are able to share our love for high quality, local produce with students who may otherwise not have access and exposure to it. This program is special because you can see the immediate reactions when students get excited when trying a fruit or vegetable they've never had before. We love being a part of the program and the farming community that has evolved from within. However, there are roadblocks preventing other farmers from joining this community.
In 2018, the FARMacy in Wetzel County was designed to fight chronic diseases with a prescription of healthy, locally grown, fruits and vegetables. For ourselves and the four other farms, which primarily supplied produce for the FARMacy, we can feel the impact of these roadblocks. The program ran for 20-weeks, and we collaboratively provided produce for the 25 patients enrolled in the FARMacy. Though we were able to meet this demand, we are in desperate need for more farmers to participate in order to sustain and expand FARMacy and other HFI programs into the future.
HFI centered programs have limited growth due to the financial risk small-scale farmers have to take, in order to grow the specialty crops that are needed. Farming isn't cheap, especially when large volumes of crops are needed. Farming already comes with unavoidable risks, such as deer, weather, and insect pests, to name a few, and farmers try to control as many other variables as possible. Reducing costs when possible helps to make up for the loss that can happen. Increasing production capacity without a secured payday is a huge risk to ask farmers to take.
The extended reach that HFIs would be able to obtain with the passage of this bill and creation of this program would be helpful, not just for West Virginia’s most vulnerable populations, but farmers, like ourselves and our neighbors. This program would also bring farmers in their first years of production on to the scene, as it alleviates the strain by creating a small but mighty safety blanket to expand production.
It would also expand what happens behind the scenes to pull off these programs. In particular with Kids Pop Up Markets, there are a lot of moving parts working to ensure things go smoothly. However, without a conductor, it is difficult to ensure all the parts are moving in the same direction. Farmers need to plan plantings in the winter months, while HFIs don’t start program planning until late spring and the funding is also often not aligned with the growing season. SB 383 would have an added benefit of creating a much-needed network to help with communication, planning, and aggregation/distribution of crops.
Whether it is giving students the chance to try new foods, or helping adults change their eating habits, farmers are at the center for making these programs happen. The Trust for America's Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation State of Obesity report found that West Virginia is the number one state for obesity in 2018. We are focused on improving that statistic and making sure we become known for our healthy local produce that is easily accessible to our West Virginia community. We believe strongly in the healthy food initiatives and the positive change they continue to bring to our community and the rest of West Virginia. Passage of SB 383 will support agricultural growth and expansion of HFI programs. This is a perfect marriage of local farmers feeding their communities to promote a healthier West Virginia.
Lisa and Jon Dumars are owner/operators of the Garden Patch Farm in New Martinsville, WV and have worked together with nearly a dozen other farmers to provide FARMacy boxes to patients at the Health Right Clinic in Wetzel.