West Virginia Department of Commerce Flex-E-Grant Project: Growing Markets for Small Farmers

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Flex-E-Grant Project: Growing Markets for Small Farmers

Flex-E-Grant Growing Markets

The Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia (C21C) works to improve West Virginia’s economy and preserve small farms. The organization takes a “buy local” stance to promote the state’s regional cuisine and the agriculture that supports it.

C21C set a goal of developing a cadre of agricultural producers of gourmet products for high end restaurants, thereby creating jobs and growing local destination tourism. The first phase was to initiate grass roots dialogues to encourage farmers to expand their concepts of specialty crop markets. C21C organized sessions that brought together chefs and food producers in “grass roots visioning dialogues.” These sessions addressed what to grow and how to present it to high end restaurants.

The Meadows family farm is an example of how participating in C21C’s cheffarmer dialogues benefited farmers. The Meadows grew heirloom “bloody butcher” corn for the family grits. Working with the C21C, the family had the corn stone ground as polenta at historic Jackson’s Mill. A 12-ounce container of polenta with one of the C21C’s chef’s grandmother’s recipe on the label sold for $3 wholesale to customers such as Stonewall Resort and The Greenbrier and $4 retail. As a result, 10 bushels of the heirloom corn that used to sell for $50 as a commodity was now producing new revenues of $1,800-$2,000.

The Meadows family is representative of the group of approximately 60 small farm owner/operators who expressed interest during the first year at one of the chef-farmer dialogue sessions. Small farms with 99 or fewer acres represent nearly half of the family farms in West Virginia. With the specialized, custom-growing demonstrated in the C21C project, even the small farm is big enough to produce sufficient quantities of micro-products to provide a living wage. To learn more, visit the C21C Web site www.wvfarm2u.org.