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Gathering connects farmers and resources for success

By Caitlin Cook, Staff writer

The inaugural Southeast WV Farm Gathering aims to give farmers the tips and tools they need for success.

More than 100 farmers will attend Monday and Tuesday’s event that features classes, vendors and on-site displays at the state fairgrounds in Fairlea.

“The idea behind these regional farm gatherings that we are doing is to take resources, training and stuff to people who live there,” said Kelly Crane of the West Virginia Farmers Market Association.

The association’s annual event, which Crane said is still important, isn’t free like the regional gatherings and many farmers have to travel long distances.

Having regional farm gatherings in addition to the annual statewide gathering allow for some aspects of the conference to be tailored to what a certain region’s farmers need, Crane said.

The West Virginia Farmers Market Association recently hosted a farm gathering in the eastern panhandle that will be a similar style to the upcoming gathering but in Charleston the association hosted an urban agriculture conference.

“This event is cool because it’s designed by stakeholders in cooperation with state level folks,” Crane said.

In the last two and half months, organizers along with local practitioners, farmers and vendors, and held a series of conference calls to decide what classes to offer, who would they teach them and who would be in charge of what.

Classes about the nuts and bolts of business planning for profitability, best practices for long-term sustainability from regional aggregations and product liability insurance, are intended to help farmers grasp business concepts.

“Farmers do not traditionally keep great records,” Crane said. “This is just giving them more tools.”

There’s also the body care for farmers class, which Crane admits she would have never thought to offer.

“The thing about top-down processes is they are really efficient but they don’t get the collaborative spirit that we were looking for with this event,” Crane said. “We’ve got a lot of people working on this. It’s a really big group effort.”

Event organizers hope to offer something for every level of farmer.

“Farm-based businesses look really different,” Crane said. “There is no one size fits all and we are really wanted to offer trainings, workshops and resources for people who were through that whole spectrum of farm businesses because all of them serve a really important niche.”

Crane added West Virginia has a lot of well-established and high-production farmers who may be in their 50s or 60s.

“When they age out of the farming population, we have to have the small, new and beginning farmers that are getting incubated and trained ready to fill that gap,” Crane said.

The gathering will also spotlight local food. The food provided at lunch and dinner will be only from all local farmers and vendors.

Farmers attending will also have a chance to help their farm business. Qualifying farmers have a chance to win a high tunnel package and a marketing package at the gathering.

The event is poised to have a good turnout.

“It filled up really fast,” Crane said. “We filled up before the cut off date and then we expanded it a little.”

Crane said a natural buzz was created from local folks being involved in the planning process talking to their friends, family and neighbors about the event.

She was pleasantly surprised about the diversity of the attendees in terms of geography. People are coming from 15 different counties and five different states.

“We got a lot more love from the statewide crowd than we expected,” Crane said. “People are connected to our communications network and they have really liked some of the offerings we have had for workshops and are willing to travel.”

The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, Farm Credit of the Virginias, Farm Family Insurance, West Virginia Farmers Market Association, Change the Future West Virginia and West Virginia Department of Education sponsored the event.

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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