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West Virginia Small Farm Conference to help local farmers grow food and communities

WVU Extension Agent leading session at Small Farm Conference

Morgantown, W.Va. – Food has a way of bridging divides and bringing people together. And, today, there’s a growing desire among communities, restaurants and schools to use high quality, locally sourced ingredients.

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.

“The food system in West Virginia is growing 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 more than $8 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 consumers’ demands.”

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 Charleston at the newly renovated Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center from Wednesday, Feb. 13 until Saturday, Feb. 16.

With a variety of classes available, attendees are sure to learn how to adapt their enterprises to meet the rising demand for local foods. There will be more traditional offerings to help small farmers increase the profitability of their operations, from vegetable production to value-added products.

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.

For adults, the cost of attendance is $80 per day on Thursday and Friday and $55 on Saturday. For students, the cost is $45 per day on Thursday and Friday and $35 on Saturday. Passes for all three days of the conference are available at the discounted rate of $200 for adults and $105 for students. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged as walk-in registrations are an additional $10. Children age 11 and under are free.

At the start of the conference, a variety of specialized, intensive workshops are available for an additional cost. On Wednesday and Thursday, the better process control school is offered at $250 for in-state participants ($350 for out-of-state attendees) along with the beekeeping short course at $130. On Wednesday only, the Food Safety Modernization Act produce safety alliance grower training will be available at a cost of $110. On Thursday only, the good manufacturing practices training is available for $75.  

Registration can be found at https://extension.wvu.edu/conferences/small-farm-conference.   

The cost includes all conference meals which are prepared with locally sourced ingredients bought from local farmers, further demonstrating the values at the heart of the conference.

The popular Winter Blues Farmers Market, which is a collaboration with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, also takes place during the conference and is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 16 from 1-5 p.m.

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 U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service, West Virginia Department of Education, West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance, Waco Oil and Gas, Sodexo and Farm Credit of the Virginias.

This program is one example of moving West Virginia forward. The more West Virginia can support a robust statewide startup culture and provide the tools and resources to help startups grow and develop successful businesses, the more prosperous West Virginia will be.

WV Forward is a statewide collaboration led by West Virginia University, the state Department of Commerce and Marshall University to help grow the economy by adding jobs, investing in education and improving health and wellness to create the most prosperous West Virginia possible.

-WVU-

hb/2/4/19