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, retired WVU Extension Service Small Farm Center program leader. “Each year, West Virginians spend 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 Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center from Wednesday, Feb. 19 until Saturday, Feb. 22.
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.
Farmers also can benefit from, and are urged to explore, classes that include working with local schools, collaborating with ProStart programs and using the latest in affordable small-scale technology to enhance their operations wholly.
For adults, the cost of attendance is $75 per day on Thursday and Friday and $50 on Saturday. For students, the cost is $40 per day on Thursday and Friday and $30 on Saturday. Passes for all three days of the conference are available at the discounted rate of $195 for adults and $100 for students. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged as walk-in registrations are an additional $10.
Youths also are welcome to attend the conference with their family for a flat rate of $15 per child. Interactive learning activities will be available to youths of all ages, giving them a chance to have fun with agriculture, too.
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 for acidified foods is offered at $275. On Wednesday only, the Food Safety Modernization Act produce safety alliance grower training will be available at a cost of $50. On Thursday only, the good manufacturing practices training is available for $50.
Registration can be found at https://extension.wvu.edu/conferences/small-farm-conference.
The cost of attendance 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, a collaboration with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, also takes place during the conference and is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 22 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 will 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, Sodexo and Farm Credit of the Virginias.
WVU Extension Service