PARKERSBURG - Demand for local food in West Virginia has grown rapidly over the past few years.
The rush to meet that demand has opened new business opportunities, as well as a chance to improve access to healthy food for local communities.
In response to these growing opportunities, the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition released West Virginia's Road Map for the Food Economy, a statewide "food charter" designed to help focus, measure and celebrate West Virginia's progress toward stronger local food systems.
Ann Conageski, Parkersburg city development director, said the Parkersburg Farmer's Market Board has spoken with the development office and the Farm and Food Coalition.
"They are helping farmers statewide and we want to be part of that effort," she said. "We're looking at how they can help us with recruiting vendors, especially for produce, and see what develops. The Parkersburg Farmer's Market wants to be part of that effort."
Conageski said the board is seeking to add more local food items and local items not available before.
"We are always looking for vendors for produce, milk, eggs, cheese and meat," she said. "We had some students who did a survey and they found that was what people wanted to see at the market."
Conageski said the farmer's market never had a dairy farmer involved. Getting more local farms involved would give people more options to buy foods grown locally, she said.
Partners in organizing the forums and developing the road map included the West Virginia University Extension Service and its West Virginia Small Farm Center, the Office of Child Nutrition and Office of Career and Technical Instruction at the West Virginia Department of Education, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, West Virginia State University and the West Virginia Community Development Hub.
To understand the "state of the state" of local food and how well the local food economy is performing, the road map includes a "Food Economy Score Card" on the state of West Virginia's food and agriculture economy. In the coming years, the score card will be updated annually to show progress.
Organizations, businesses and government entities are invited to "sign on" to the road map, committing to further its actions and goals, at http://bit.ly/SU8C9d.
As a companion to the road map, the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition released a report, "West Virginia Food System: Opportunities and Constraints in Local Food Supply Chains."
This looks at the links in the supply chain through which food typically travels to the consumer-from washing and processing to packing and distribution-and investigates how more farmers make these connections. It includes a directory of West Virginia businesses that offer processing and distribution services for farmers.
It profiles large buyers actively seeking local food. The report includes a directory for farmers, which lists the local food aggregators, processors and distributors identified in the report.
The road map and new report can be downloaded at www.wvhub.org/wvffc.