CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition met in Charleston on Tuesday to discuss, and promote, its growing network of farmers, students and local food marketers around the state.
Bekki Leigh, from the Office of Child Nutrition in West Virginia's Department of Education, said one of her goals is to see "youth and new farmers participate in the agricultural economy. We need to communicate with each other."
Leigh said her department has given $225,000 in grants to 26 counties to help students start farming businesses and sell their products back to schools in their area.
"One student grew and sold sweet corn in Greenbrier County. Because he grew so much, he also sold it in Pocahontas and Kanawha counties," she said.
Another goal of her program, Leigh said, is to encourage schools and other institutions to buy locally grown healthy foods.
"We have had over 38 counties purchase our foods. Last year, local schools purchased $350,000 of our foods. For the first four months of this [academic] year, schools bought over $500,000 worth of our foods."
The Farm to School Community Development Group, Leigh said, hopes to "simplify the process of purchasing local food for institutions. We help people sell to schools."
"West Virginia's Road Map for the Food Economy," a colorful booklet just published by the Food and Farm Coalition, is available at www.wvhub.org/wvffc.
The booklet identifies groups around the state that work in local communities to identify government policy needs and to organize events that encourage and promote local food production.
The coalition organizes food growers, ranchers, educators, food processors, business owners, farmers markets and eaters to "make food a vibrant part of the lives of all West Virginians."
Groups that helped publish and promote the booklet include: the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, Blue Moon Fund, West Virginia Office of Healthy Lifestyles, Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, BB&T Bank, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, JM Catering and the Kanawha County WVU Extension Service.