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WIA Conference Speakers

Register for the 2018 Women in Ag Conference

2018 Keynote Speaker

Julia Shanks
Saturday, November 3, 2017
8:45 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.

About the speaker:

Julia Shanks brings a broad range of professional experiences to her clients, from pilot to chef to serial entrepreneur. She combines the practicality of an accountant with the creativity of a chef.

Working with a range of clients, Julia helps them maximize profits and streamline operations through business planning, feasibility studies and operational audits. Some of Julia’s most intriguing projects include developing a cricket cracker recipe for Aspire Food Group and refining the growth strategy of Boston’s first rooftop farm .

Julia combines her passion for food and business management in her two books. “The Farmer's Office” coaches farmers to think like entrepreneurs so they can build a financially sustainable business. “The Farmers Market Cookbook,” co-written with Brett Grohsgal, highlights the joys of local produce and helps consumers make the most of local farmers' bounties.

Julia received her professional training as a chef at the California Culinary Academy and an MBA, graduating magna cum laude, from Babson College. She sits on the advisory board of Future Chefs and is regional leader of Slow Money Boston.


Track Speakers

Horticulture Track

Producer Spotlight: Mollie Toppe, Jennings Brae Bank Farm and WVU Extension Agent

Mollie Toppe is co-owner of Jennings Brae Bank Farm in New Martinsville, West Virginia, where she is chief of marketing, social media and weeding. Jennings Brae Bank Farm is a small diversified farm raising livestock and seasonal produce. The farm has grown sales through farmers markets, a market CSA and FARMacy program. Mollie is active in local food projects in the Wetzel County area and is the WVU Extension agent for Wetzel County.

Improving the Nutritional Value of Your Crops

Dr. Nicole Waterland, Associate Professor of Horticulture, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

Dr. Nicole Waterland’s research focuses on the effects of climate change and environmental stress on plant growth and development using petunias and blueberries as model systems. She also is interested in the development of crop production methods to enhance health-promoting phytochemicals in horticultural crops and the production of specialty crops in greenhouse, aquaponic and hydroponic systems.

Wineries, Cideries, Breweries: Niche Market Opportunities for West Virginia

Dr. Sven Verlindin, Assistant Division Director, Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Horticulture, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

Dr. Sven Verlinden is an associate professor of horticulture at WVU. He received his Ph.D. in 1999 from Purdue University after which he started his academic career at West Virginia University. He has authored 20+ peer-reviewed publications in a variety of formats ranging from journal articles to book chapters and published on topics that span the gamut from practical horticultural applications to the molecular biology of flower senescence. These endeavors have been supported by over one million dollars of extramural funding. Dr. Verlinden teaches Plants and People: Past and Present; Herbaceous Plant Materials; Storage and Handling of Horticultural Crops; Garden Center Management; Greenhouse Management; and Graduate Seminar. As part of his teaching he tries to instill an entrepreneurial spirit in students. Several horticulture students have gone on to start their own business, encouraged by independent studies, undergraduate research, study trips, and student club participation guided by Dr. Verlinden. He also is involved in a research and outreach project that will encourage the development of a cider industry in West Virginia, another effort that is trying to encourage small and niche type crop production and product development. The recent surge in an interest in cannabis has led Dr. Verlinden to develop a new course: Seed to Weed. This effort involves a team of faculty in law, pharmacy, soil science, and plant sciences and hopes to encourage budding entrepreneurs and dispel myths and misinformation surrounding cannabis production and marketing.

From Seed to Weed

Dr. Sven Verlindin, Assistant Division Director, Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Horticulture, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

Dr. Sven Verlinden is an associate professor of horticulture at WVU. He received his Ph.D. in 1999 from Purdue University after which he started his academic career at West Virginia University. He has authored 20+ peer-reviewed publications in a variety of formats ranging from journal articles to book chapters and published on topics that span the gamut from practical horticultural applications to the molecular biology of flower senescence. These endeavors have been supported by over one million dollars of extramural funding. Dr. Verlinden teaches Plants and People: Past and Present; Herbaceous Plant Materials; Storage and Handling of Horticultural Crops; Garden Center Management; Greenhouse Management; and Graduate Seminar. As part of his teaching he tries to instill an entrepreneurial spirit in students. Several horticulture students have gone on to start their own business, encouraged by independent studies, undergraduate research, study trips, and student club participation guided by Dr. Verlinden. 

The recent surge in an interest in cannabis has led Dr. Verlinden to develop a new course: Seed to Weed. This effort involves a team of faculty in law, pharmacy, soil science, and plant sciences and hopes to encourage budding entrepreneurs and dispel myths and misinformation surrounding cannabis production and marketing. He also is involved in a research and outreach project that will encourage the development of a cider industry in West Virginia, another effort that is trying to encourage small and niche type crop production and product development. 

Livestock Track

Producer Spotlight:  Pam Kwasniewski, The Charm Farm

Pam Kwasniewski and her son, Mike, are owners and head-nurturers at the Charm Farm, a 260-acre organic farm operation in Randolph County, West Virginia. The two expanded the farm in 2012 with an emphasis on organic, sustainable farming practices, chemical-free produce, pasture-raised chickens, all-natural eggs and grass-fed beef. The cornerstone of the farm is the whole-diet Community Supported Agriculture program, but the farm also supplies restaurants and retail stores and is a staple at the Morgantown and Elkins’ Farmers Markets.

Low-stress Livestock Handling

Kevin Shaffer, Livestock Production Specialist, WVU Extension Service
In addition to his role as livestock production specialist for WVU Extension Service, Kevin Shaffer, Ph.D., has a joint appointment in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design where he teaches beef production and calving management courses. He also serves as supervisor for the Division of Animal and Nutritional Science Purebred Herd Data Collection and Reporting. He coordinates the annual Mountaineer Cattlemen’s College, Wardensville Bull Test, the West Virginia Quality Assurance Feeder Cattle Marketing program and the West Virginia Youth Animal Husbandry and Quality Assurance educational program.

Using Drones in Your Enterprises

David Miller, Multimedia Specialist, West Virginia University Potomac State

Growing up on sheep and cattle operations, David Miller’s professional background has been one of digital asset creation, fabrication and live event support. Through a collaboration involving the WVU Potomac State agriculture department and the WVU Teaching and Learning Commons, he has been exploring ways to implement drones in agriculture. From using drones to capture promotional videos to creating 3-D maps/ models, he has been through the process of obtaining the Federal Aviation Administration SUAS certification (14 CFR part 107).  

Predation and Control

Tom Elliott, District Supervisor, West Virginia Wildlife Services Program

After graduating from WVU in 1996, Tom Elliott started his career working in the South Carolina Wildlife Services Program as a beaver damage specialist. From there, he moved to the Virginia WS Program as a livestock protection specialist. He also took an active role in the oral rabies vaccine program during his time in Virginia.

In 2004, he accepted a biologist position in the Mississippi WS Program where he concentrated his efforts on wildlife hazard management at airports. From 2007 to 2009 he served as staff biologist for the Pennsylvania WS program.

He currently serves as district supervisor for the West Virginia WS Program. His staff protects cooperator’s resources with livestock protection, rabies control, feral swine, waterfowl and other avian species.


Marketing/Business Track

Producer Spotlight: Tara Helmick, Little Brown Cow Dairy

Tara Helmick operates Little Brown Cow Dairy with her husband, Aaron, and three children. Little Brown Cow Dairy is a grass-based dairy operation in Monroe County, West Virginia. Little Brown Cow Dairy was the 2017 West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year. Tara and Aaron are natives of West Virginia and both hold agricultural degrees from WVU. Their successful farm is their sole source of income.

Rethinking How to Use Social Media as an Entrepreneur

Mary Elizabeth “M.E.” Yancosek Gamble, Chair of Communications and Media Arts Department, Bethany College

During her six years as chair of the Communications and Media Arts Department at Bethany College, M.E. Yancosek Gamble has revitalized the department, fundraised over a quarter of a million dollars, rewritten the curriculum and brought new life to the department. She was named Educator of the Year in 2015 by the West Virginia Public Relations Society of America, and her department won the coveted Chapter of the Year​ for 2012. In 2014, Bethany College won Chapter of the Year​ by the Society for Collegiate Journalists.

Before teaching at Bethany, M.E. was the state director of the Small Business Division of the West Virginia Development Office. Before being named state director, she was the small business developer for Loudoun County, Virginia.

A native of Washington, Pennsylvania, she earned a bachelor’s degree from California University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree from Marshall University, both in communication studies. She also has done post-graduate work in organizational communication from Bowling Green State University.

The began her career teaching at Bethany College and at Washington and Jefferson College. She has been executive director of public relations and marketing at Wheeling Jesuit University and director of marketing for Cafaro Company and Crown American Corporation. She also served as a full-time faculty member for the School at Business at Fairmont State University.

How to Know What and When to Grow

Andrea McCardle, Associate with a small general practice law firm in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania

Andrea McCardle is an associate with a small general practice law firm in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, and former director of WVU’s Women's Business Center. Andrea also has served as an adjunct faculty member for the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. Prior to her experience at WVU, Andrea was an associate with the law firm Jackson Kelly in Morgantown, where her practice focused on real estate and oil and natural gas matters.

Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Success in Small Business

Linda Losey, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, Bloomery Plantation Distillery

Linda Losey is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Bloomery Plantation Distillery, an emerging leader in the American craft distillery movement. The distillery handcrafts award-winning Bloomery SweetShine—a moonshine-based brand of farm-fresh liqueurs. It truly is a Pure American Spirit—as is Linda.

Linda has been through it all, from enduring the worst of tragedies to becoming a heroic survivor. Linda lost two sons to separate tragedies, 10-year-old Sam and 18-year-old Eric. A mother’s world was ripped apart, not once, but twice. In between their deaths, vowing to honor her youngest son’s dream, Linda rode all the way across America, alone, on a horse. She painstakingly picked up the pieces of her shattered life and emerged with more grace, compassion and wisdom.

Drawing from both her amazing personal story and honed professional skills, Linda has managed to accomplish so much in spite of devastating situations. In fact, her mountain of adversity has propelled Linda into becoming a best-selling author, an award-winning artist, a dynamic and professional speaker, and now entrepreneur and owner of Bloomery Plantation Distillery, the most awarded farm distillery in America.


Networking Track

Producer Spotlight: Jennifer “Tootie” Jones, Owner, Swift Level Farms and Swift Level Fine Meats

Jennifer “Tootie” Jones is founder and owner of Swift Level Farm, a 152-acre historic landmark located in West Virginia’s Greenbrier Valley that has been in Tootie’s family since the 1930s. Tootie decided to take up the family tradition of raising cattle nearly 15 years ago and has since grown the farm to include meat distribution, lodging and agritourism, catering and private events. Swift Level practices thoughtful and knowledgeable animal husbandry and land management with respectful treatment to bring grass-finished beef, pastured lamb and pork to customers from the mountain valleys of West Virginia.

Tootie serves as president of the Greenbrier Valley Pasture Network, chair of the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition Meat Working Group and has worked tirelessly as a catalyst for organizing meat aggregation and distribution in southern West Virginia. Tootie owns Swift Level Fine Meats, which retails locally sourced meats from pasture-based farms that adhere to strict protocols and standards in animal care, land management and water management.

Workshopping Creativity – Beyond “Business as Usual”

Julia Shanks

Julia Shanks works with food and agricultural entrepreneurs, helping them achieve financial sustainability. She provides technical assistance and business coaching that enables them to launch, stabilize and grow their ventures. Julia’s books promote a sustainable food system with resources for farmers and consumers. "The Farmer's Office" coaches farmers to think like entrepreneurs so they can build a financially sustainable business. "The Farmers Market Cookbook" co-authored with Brett Grohsgal, highlights the joys of local produce and helps consumers make the most of local farmers' bounties.

Connecting Agripreneurs — Lessons Learned During the Creation of Mountain State Maple Days

Britney Hervey-Farris, Owner, Family Roots Farm

Britney Hervey-Farris is owner and operator of Family Roots Farm in Brooke County, West Virginia. Family Roots Farm was established in 2012 by Britney and her husband, Charlie Farris. Homesteaded in 1770, Britney is the sixth generation to farm the land.

A family tradition for over 15 years, the family’s sugar maker, Fred Hervey, decided to begin offering the family’s syrup for sale in 2013. Since then, they have expanded to not only 100% pure maple syrup, but also pure maple sugar, maple cream, maple nuts, maple cotton candy and much more. In 2015, Family Roots Farm received first place for their maple syrup at the International Maple Conference with a perfect score for their maple syrup. Britney also was recognized as a 2017 West Virginia Woman in Agriculture. Family Roots Farm has been instrumental in helping to start and grow the West Virginia Mountain State Maple Days.

Showcasing the Best of West Virginia Agriculture – Partnerships and Collaborations in the Agritourism Supply Chain

Dee Singh-Knights, Extension Specialist, WVU Extension Service and Cindy Martel, Marketing Specialist, West Virginia Department of Agriculture

Both Dee Singh-Knights and Cindy Martel have worked through their respective organizations to help grow agritourism in West Virginia. With more than two decades of agritourism experience between them, they have both worked to develop and deliver the West Virginia Agritourism Initiative, a grassroots project for aspiring, beginning and mid-level agritourism operators to help build community capacity to lead profitable and sustainable agritourism operations in the state. They are currently working to help agritourism operators work together in regional clusters to help promote their local identities and build regional viability. They are both advocates of the term “co-opetition,” where producers simultaneously engage in cooperation and competition, with the end result being a better product for everyone.