Morgantown, W.Va. – With the recipes we hand down to the next generation and local specialties we pride ourselves on, food plays an important part in our lives as West Virginians. A resurgence in popularity of locally grown, quality food has led to farmers markets and food related festivals springing up all across the Mountain State.
But, it doesn’t stop there. Restaurants are using local ingredients, schools connect with local food systems to provide nourishing options to the state’s youth at lunch time and grocers are carrying more and more West Virginia food and food products.
It’s this demand that the West Virginia University Extension Service Small Farm Center sees and is trying to help farmers and growers of all types capitalize on.
“There’s a new food system being built in West Virginia and our farmers are at the root of it all,” said Tom McConnell, WVU Extension Service Small Farm Center program leader. “Last year, West Virginians spent $8.3 billion on food, and we want to provide a comprehensive learning and networking experience to help those farmers get a bigger piece of that pie and meet consumer demand.”
The marquee educational event organized and hosted by the WVU Extension Service Small Farm Center is the West Virginia Small Farm Conference with more than 110 classes and nine conference tracks for farmers to take advantage of to help their operations run more efficiently and profitably. The conference takes place in Morgantown at the Morgantown Marriott Waterfront Place from Wednesday, Feb. 21 until Saturday, Feb. 24.
With a variety of classes available, attendees are sure to learn how to adapt their enterprises to meet the rising demand for local foods. Traditional offerings, such as growing in-demand specialty crops like blackberries and mini watermelons, and topics in animal production, such as enhancing pork’s flavor through new genetics and diet, are available.
However, farmers can also benefit from, and are urged to explore, classes that include working with local chefs, helping with garden-based learning programs and using the latest in harvesting technology to enhance their operations wholly.
Cost for attending is $70 per day for adults or $35 per day for students. Passes for all three days of the conference are available at the discounted rate of $190 for adults and $95 for students. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged as walk-in registrations are an additional $10 per day. Children under 11 are free.
The first day of the conference offers specialized, intensive workshops at an additional cost. Wednesday and Thursday the better process control school is offered at $225 for in-state participants ($325 out of state) along with the beekeeping short course at $100. Wednesday only is the Food Safety Modernization Act produce safety alliance grower training at $50.
Registration can be found at https://extension.wvu.edu/conferences/small-farm-conference
The cost includes all conference meals that are prepared with locally sourced ingredients bought from local farmers, which demonstrates the values at the heart of the conference.
The popular Winter Blues farmers market takes place during the conference on Thursday, Feb. 22 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., and last year, farmers who setup booths benefitted from approximately $46,000 in sales, many selling out of products before the pop-up market closed.
The public is invited and encouraged to attend the Winter Blues farmers market. In addition to farmers selling their seasonal goods, the event also incorporates a pay-as-you-go dine around for Winter Blues attendees, where chefs from the area dish up their take on locally sourced foods.
The conference also focuses on partnerships, not only from farmer to farmer, but also farmer to supplier or agriculture service providers. Many sponsors have helped make the conference possible, including the West Virginia Farm Bureau, Natural Resource Conservation Service, West Virginia Department of Education, Farm Credit of the Virginias, Thrasher Engineering and Northeast Natural Energy.
The WVU Extension Service provides educational opportunities to local communities through offices in all 55 West Virginia counties. WVU Extension Service’s programs are accomplished in partnership with individuals, families, businesses, civic groups and governmental organizations statewide and throughout the nation.
To learn more about WVU Extension programs, visit www.extension.wvu.edu, or contact your local office of the WVU Extension Service. Be sure to follow @WVUExtension on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with the latest news.