LEWISBURG -- When Jennifer "Tootie" Jones looks out over her 150-acre farm in Lewisburg, she doesn't just see cattle and horses. She sees potential for growth.
"What people are open to [in the region] is looking how they can continue doing something that is their business -- that they love -- and how they can survive doing it. They want to keep doing it and make some money," she said.
Jones, along with other farmers in Greenbrier, Monroe and Pocahontas counties, are pushing to increase local food production as a way to get back to the land and make farming a more primary job in the region.
"Greenbrier Valley Local Food: The Possibilities and Potential," a study by Morgantown environmental consultant Downstream Strategies, highlights the Greenbrier Valley's ability to "significantly gain from a localized food system," by using the regions hilly terrain to grow more crops and graze more livestock, with an emphasis on smaller animals such as lamb, sheep and goats.
Pocahontas, Monroe and Greenbrier counties are home to more than 56,000 people spread across 1.5 million acres. Currently, hay and livestock dominate the agricultural landscape but some regional farmers --who own almost 2,000 farms in the valley -- and community members are looking for ways to diversify the region.
Emphasizing local farming could bring jobs to the region, boost health among residents and "ensure an adequate local food supply of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and other goods," according to the study.
"The study really shows the big picture and is a really great snapshot of what is possible in the region and in the state as a whole," said Downstream Strategies project manager Laura Hartz.
Although the study covers everything from current demand in fruits and vegetables to examining the current local food markets, Hartz said the study is "just an initial swipe at what is possible. There are so many ways to take it," including in the direction of financial income for the region and the health benefits.
According to the study, there are more than 336,000 acres in the Greenbrier Valley that are suitable for agricultural production without having to cut down any more trees in the area.
"We have a foundation and a place to start on what is really happening with growing foods in this region of the state," said Jones, who runs the 150-acre Swift Level Farm, where she grazes grass-fed cattle.
"This area has grown food for hundreds and hundreds of years, so it's not a new thing. The state of West Virginia used to grow enough food to feed everyone in it with the same population that we have right now," Jones said. "So we're returning to something that is quite familiar, we just have to remember that."
Jones said knowing how many other people may be struggling in farming only strengthens the case to put more focus on the needs of the people growing food.
"Some people want to hear about clean food and where it comes from, but the people that we need to fund those projects need to hear that there is money in it. And there is," Jones said.
A lot of money that is being sent out of state could be spent on a local level, she said.
"It's more than just selling the food to people on a local level. It has to start with making the food on a local level," Jones said -- people owning land, paying taxes, buying seeds and spending dollars in the local community.