Agriculture is all the buzz these days. It seems like everyone is talking about growing food and commercial products. It’s about time!
I recently heard at a conference food is the fastest growing sector of the US economy. Organic food is the fastest growing agriculture based industry in the world. Think of all the crops that are grown and used to make materials and clothing. Food has outpaced them all.
What is driving this trend? I think it’s mainly because we have had time to analyze our past actions. We are looking around and seeing our health trends and realize something in our previous way of growing and consuming food is not right.
Beyond being cool and trendy, I think we are moving toward healthy, chemical free, non-GMO (genetically modified organism) food out of necessity. I think people know we must change our course if we expect to reap favorable consequences.
A few years ago, for the first time in human history, the amount of land used for living space surpassed the amount of land used for growing food. Researchers are projecting catastrophic global food shortages due to population growth and climate change by the year 2050. We will need to produce 50% more food than we currently do to feed a projected 9 billion people (keep in mind many people are going hungry right now).
Fortunately this is a projection based on our current trajectory. And being the intelligent, resourceful, resilient beings we are, we are capable of reversing trends and meeting these demands.
So what can we do? We can grow food!
Obviously our current economic situation is in need of a boost. Did you know approximately 6.7 billion dollars a year is spent on food in West Virginia alone? Only about 1 billion dollars worth of food is produced in this state.
Did you know West Virginia has the most family owned land per capita in the United States? Therefore, relative to population, West Virginia has more small farms than any other state.
In my work with the Wayne County Farmers Cooperative, I have found that most people can farm, most people want to farm, but most people are hesitant to grow food. The most common questions are: How can we grow enough? How can we compete? Where am I going to sell it?
These questions lead to our greatest opportunities. First, we cannot grow enough. The demand for food, locally, regionally and nationally is more than we can match. However this works to our benefit because there will always be a market for our food. We can only hope to put a dent in the total demand for food. If we can put a dent in a 6.7 billion dollar demand in WV alone I think we will be doing pretty well.
We CAN compete. More and more people are moving toward a healthier diet. This means, consuming locally grown food and a special emphasis on organic produce and food products. Many Appalachian Folk have been growing organic food long before it even thought about being cool.
We are the people foodies want to buy from. We are the hard nosed, blue collar, self–sustaining people who believe it or not, everyone wants to be. We live the life that city folks sitting in their cubicles dream of… And they want to eat our food!
Finally, we must identify markets. If we grow extra food, we must have a place to take it. This piece varies depending on the scale of farmer’s operations and how far they are willing to take their farming practices.
The markets exist. We have to connect with them. Think of all the food consumed in our area on a daily basis. All the lunches consumed on the job, in school cafeterias, at home dinner tables, in restaurants, hospitals and other institutions. Imagine if our farmers were able to supply even a portion of that food.
Much of this work is currently being done by the Wayne County Farmers Cooperative. The coop is a group of people who want to feed Wayne County and the surrounding areas. The coop is working to build a brighter future for Wayne County by connecting farmers for organized production planning, identifying markets, and proving support and trainings that benefit our growers and our consumers.
Currently the coop is working to meet some of the demand for the Wayne County schools with a farm to school initiative. The coop hosts farmers markets, which will take place in various locations throughout the county starting in the spring. We have identified several local markets, partnerships and a few larger out of state markets as well.
The coop provides an opportunity for organized production planning. This means we can know what our neighbors are growing, so we don’t have to compete with them. This also means you can grow the same crop or crops as your neighbor and combine your produce for sale to a larger market. No matter the size of your operation, level of skill or quantity of production, the coop has an avenue to help you sell your food.
President Pat Fluty leads inspiring meetings with electric atmospheres. At the farmers markets, you can feel the energy in the air accompanied by a warm, welcoming sense of community.
If you are interested in growing food and agricultural products, or if you are looking for fresh, healthy, locally grown produce please consider joining or following the coop.