Swift Level also has served as a locale for weddings and retreats and has offered horse boarding services and equitours. Those activities may resume in the near future, Jones said, after she finalizes her plans for an educational foundation.
“We’ll be offering the property for special events, but most of our emphasis is really going to be on climate, food, conservation, agriculture – all of that,” she said. “So that’s our hope, to fill our houses with people who want to come learn about gardening, food, nutrition and how to care for the land. We are committed to develop a client base that seeks a wonderful destination providing the very best of fresh, local, sustainably produced artisan foods."
West Virginia has the ability to make this sort of agritourism a year-round business, she said. Most of the state is within a four-hour drive of a major metropolitan area, which makes it an ideal day trip for urbanites who want to experience the benefits of rural living.
“You can spend the day on the farm and then go rafting, or go walking in Cranberry Glades … there are a variety of things to do. People like to be engaged.”
By focusing on food and agricultural land conservation, Jones sees an opportunity for West Virginia to thrive.
“We have really wonderful potential to do something here, and we have more family-owned farms than any state in the country. I’m not saying we need to produce millions of cattle, but if we could get families to come on board and start producing in a standard way, and help people with the marketing, I think we’ve got a real industry here.”
It’s a huge project, she admits, but one that has a tremendous amount of support. Whether it’s a result of the economic downturn or just a general shift in public attitude, people are more receptive to the idea than they were 15 years ago.
“The USDA is very excited. There are a number of wonderful programs out there, and it’s a stimulus package. We’re going to create full-time jobs and teach people how to become more successful while keeping the money all flowing in our regional area. And that’s what West Virginia needs.”