Meeting to discuss food business development

WEST UNION – A meeting to discuss funding priorities for food business development will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday at the Doddridge County Extension Office, 503-A W. Main St.

The Value Chain Cluster Initiative is a program of Natural Capital Investment Fund with coordination from the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition. The discussion will help set funding priorities for the Value Chain Cluster Initiative, a new program that provides food business development from field to fork.

Partners in the program include the West Virginia University Extension and Doddridge County Economic Development Authority, a press release states.

Also a meeting for Calhoun, Clay, Roane and Wirt counties will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 24 at Heritage Park Community Building in Spencer.

The purpose of the meeting for Doddridge, Ritchie, Tyler and Gilmer counties is to gather stakeholders together to set funding priorities for food business development in the area, Savanna Lyons, a spokeswoman for the initiative. She said participants will explore how the new program can strengthen local supply chains, which can impact food pathways from field to fork.

Another purpose of the meeting is to figure out how to strengthen “weak links” in the local food supply chain so that everyone can become more profitable, officials said. In some counties, for example, the lack of a nearby slaughterhouse can be a major barrier to farmers who want to sell meat directly to local consumers or restaurants, the initiative said.

In other areas, small vegetable farmers would like to sell to larger buyers like schools, but would need to pool their products to supply enough food. These opportunities, along with ideas about how to increase trust and collaboration between local food buyers and sellers, will be the focus of the meeting, officials said.

Attendees will have the chance to network with each other and to learn how the program can help bolster their own food businesses leading to a more robust regional food economy.

Launched early this year, the Value Chain Cluster Initiative will provide hands-on business development and coaching services to strengthen local food and farm businesses in four regions of West Virginia. The program serves 17 West Virginia counties and is operated by Natural Capital Investment Fund, a business lender based out of Shepherdstown, in partnership with the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition.

The program can provide businesses and organizations with business planning help, legal assistance, web technology, consulting services for marketing and branding and flexible loans, officials said.