Phoebe Patton Randolph
Have you ever wondered how far your food has traveled to get to your plate? In most cases the produce and other food in our grocery stores have been transported thousands of miles in trucks, railroad cars, airplanes and cargo ships from all over the world to appear on our shelves.
West Virginians spend approximately $3,930 per capita on food in a year. That translates to a roughly $7.1 billion dollar-a-year industry. On average, we spend about half of our food dollars ‘in the home’ or on food we prepare ourselves, and the other half going out to eat. The real eye-opener is that out of the $7.1 billion West Virginians spend on food, less than 1 percent of that food is produced within our state’s borders.
Three generations ago nearly everyone in West Virginia lived on family farms, raised livestock, and grew their own food. During the Great Depression most farm owners had an advantage because they always had food to eat, even if they didn’t have much else. Over the years as people moved to metropolitan areas, we became dependent on grocery stores, gas stations and fast food restaurants as food sources. This lifestyle change has contributed to many of the health issues that our society now faces. Developing our own secure sources for food will provide dependable, affordable and healthy options for the people of our state.
Nov. 6 in Huntington the West Virginia Small Farm Center will be hosting the first annual Tri-State Farm & Food Conference. The conference will focus on establishing a local food system to include 15 counties within a 50 mile radius of Huntington, including the Tri-State area of West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. Presenters will come from all over the region to discuss topics ranging from season extension techniques to agri-tourism, from farmers markets to local food in our schools.
If you’re already a farmer and you’d like to learn how to make your farm more efficient and profitable, there will be lots of great information for you. You should also attend if you’re interested in starting a community garden, planting a garden in your backyard, or thinking of buying a farm. Maybe you’re the director of a daycare who wants to serve fresh, local food to your kids, or the owner of a restaurant looking for dependable sources for local produce, meat or fish. Or perhaps you’d like to produce and package a food product in a shared-use kitchen or start a food distribution business.
A local food system will help to preserve our family farms and farmland, allow young people to pursue agriculture as a viable profession, and present incredible economic opportunities for our region. The business opportunities within a local food system range from farming to distribution, from producing specialty products like soup or baked goods to marketing those products to consumers. Also, a well organized food system would allow our region to better address social issues like hunger, health problems, and child nutrition.
Local organizations providing support for the conference are Unlimited Future, Inc., and Ebenezer Medical Outreach. Conference registration is $20 and includes breakfast, lunch and snacks all from local sources. Online registration is available at www.smallfarmcenter.ext.wvu.edu (click on Events.) Questions may be directed to Tom McConnell or Carrie See at 304-293-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phoebe Patton Randolph is a member of Create Huntington.