New Initiative Will Invest In Food And Farm Businesses Across 17 West Virginia Counties
November 13, 2012
Fresh vegetables at a farmer's market. Photo by Natalie Abbassi
Shepherdstown, W.Va — The Conservation Fund’s Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF) is pleased to announce a new initiative that will help farmers and local food-related business owners take their businesses to the next level. The West Virginia Value Chain Cluster Initiative will offer hands-on business coaching, training, consulting and marketing help to strengthen local food businesses in four regional “clusters,” serving 17 counties.
The Initiative received three-year funding through a federal Rural Jobs Accelerator Challenge Grant, offered through a partnership between the Economic Development Administration, the USDA Rural Community Development Initiative and the Appalachian Regional Commission. Thirteen of these Challenge Grants were given nationwide, with two going to West Virginia.
Over $900,000 in matching funds and services are being contributed to the Value Chain Cluster Initiative by partners including the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the West Virginia Community Development Hub, the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, the Collaborative for a 21st Century Appalachia, the West Virginia University College of Law, Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, and the New Appalachian Farm and Research Center.
“This new investment comes at an opportune time,” remarked Marten Jenkins, President of the NCIF. “As more buyers such as schools and restaurants take interest in the farm-to-table movement, more West Virginian businesses and farms are starting to explore new ways to process, market and distribute local products. We are grateful to our partners for their support for local food value chain development in West Virginia.”
According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, the number of West Virginia farmers selling products directly to consumers increased 39% from 2002 to 2007; and that number continues to grow. One study — “West Virginia Local Food System: Seasonal Production Expansion and its Impacts” — found that over 1,700 jobs could be created in the state if all West Virginians consumed local produce during the growing season. Additional local jobs could be created by growing related industries such as processing kitchens, slaughterhouses and distribution companies, which are part of the focus of the initiative.
“Never in my experience, nearly 40 years as a farmer and someone who works with farmers, have I seen as much opportunity as there is in the business of local food today,” said Tom McConnell, Program Leader of the West Virginia Small Farm Center at WVU Extension Service. “Local food can make a better life for the farmers, but it can also increase the job opportunities for communities that stand up and get involved by adding value, performing the marketing and trucking and all of those things. One county school system in West Virginia spent $1.5 million on food, providing the equivalent of 57 full time jobs. Now, will those be here or someplace else? That’s for us to decide.”
“The work of local food in West Virginia is so far ahead of so many other regions in so many other states, that there really is an opportunity for investment in this area,” commented Earl Gohl, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, at a celebration of the two West Virginia grantees on Oct. 23. “This grant will move business owners from the back of the truck into the storefront, to put big ideas into action.”
Several local organizations and agencies within the Value Chain Cluster Initiative regions have agreed to advise the program and help inform and educate business owners about its offerings. One organization is Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, based in Lewisburg. “Helping our local food producers find new markets, new ways of managing their businesses and new processing services will be key to creating the 22nd century farm. The Greenbrier Valley Local Food Initiative’s goal is to re-regionalize markets and processing services to food producers using the best knowledge and technology available,” said Steve Weir, its Executive Director. Other local lead organizations include the Roane and Doddridge County WVU Extension Service offices and Heart and Hand, Inc., a nonprofit that assists farmers in the Tygart Valley.
As the grant recipient, NCIF will manage the grant with close guidance from these local organizations and from a technical advisory committee of partner agencies. These include the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, the Office of Child Nutrition and the Office of Career and Technical Instruction at the West Virginia Department of Education, the West Virginia Small Farm Center at West Virginia University Extension Service, and the other program partners.
At the October 23 celebration, Congressman Nick Joe Rahall touted the significance of this achievement for West Virginia businesses and praised the interagency collaboration that created the grant opportunity. “Teaching energetic public and private entrepreneurs, ‘how to fish,’… can literally be the investment of a lifetime,” the Congressman said. “The grants we celebrate today, also celebrate a new coalition among federal agencies to coordinate and cooperate with one another.”
Natural Capital Investment Fund is a multi-state, nonprofit community development financial institution (CDFI) that lends to small businesses engaged in natural-resource based or environmentally friendly products and services. NCIF is based out of Shepherdstown, W.Va.
The West Virginia Value Chain Cluster Initiative will serve 17 counties:
About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we combine a passion for conservation with an entrepreneurial spirit to protect your favorite places before they become just a memory. A hallmark of our work is our deep, unwavering understanding that for conservation solutions to last, they need to make economic sense. Top-ranked, we have protected more than 7 million acres across America.