CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Research into a key beer ingredient and edible fungi at West Virginia State University is getting a boost from the state Department of Agriculture.
This year, the department gave WVSU two grants totaling nearly $36,000 to improve the production of mushrooms and hops.
A $23,000 grant will focus on locally grown and organically produced hops. Flowers on hop plants are a key component in beer production.
Melissa Stewart, a WVSU extension specialist, said, "The craft brewing industry in our state is seeing a surge recently. Through this project, we're working to connect West Virginia farmers with the commercial production of hops and, in turn, foster new economic development opportunities."
A second grant, totaling nearly $13,000, will set up demonstration sites studying the production of mushrooms in both urban and rural settings.
Brad Cochran, a WVSU extension agent, said, "We are seeking to diversify existing mushroom markets and create new ones in West Virginia.
"Our goal is to find new markets for selling mushrooms and to try different varieties to gauge production levels and educate our farmers about how to produce their own crops."
The program, Cochran said, will focus on specialty mushrooms, including shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Educational workshops will be offered to growers interested in learning more about growing their own mushrooms.
"This is a new endeavor. We have these little breweries. We will study to see if we can get them the hop growers they need," said Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick.
"I am pushing agriculture. It is a significant opportunity. In West Virginia, we consume $7 billion worth of food a year. But we grow less than $1 billion. That leaves a $6 billion economic opportunity," Helmick said.
"West Virginia has several microbreweries. And several more are popping up," Cochran said. "We are trying different varieties of hops in West Virginia. We are talking to a few of the breweries around here to see if we can get those varieties of hops produced in West Virginia that the local breweries need."
Ann Saville, who owns Taylor Books in downtown Charleston, recently opened Charleston Brewing Co. at the corner of Summers and Quarrier streets.
Cochran said Saville is one of the local brewery owners he is working with.