The “buying local” trend has emerged within the last few years. In the United States, especially in West Virginia, food agriculture businesses are finding themselves at critical and electrifying times of opportunity. From 2006 to 2008, West Virginia small restaurants and hotels showed a 360% increase in purchases of local products. In the 2012-2013 school year, the WV Department of Education committed $250,000 in school food funds for local purchases. More than a dozen of county school systems reported buying directly from West Virginia farms in 2012, while four of these began buying locally since September 2011. Even the Martinsburg VAMC sees fresh, healthy meals as an ingredient of recovery for their patients and has spent over $23,000 on local food.
From 2002 to 2007, 39% more local West Virginia farmers began selling directly to consumers. And the dollar amount of direct-to-consumer sales increased by 55%. This means that farmers are capturing a greater portion of the consumer food dollar by marketing products as directly as possible from farm to table as demand grows, new business models are also emerging to provide the kinds of processing, aggregation and distribution required to meet the needs of sophisticated buyers.
This growth creates jobs for farmers and also for other parts of the state’s economy. A recent study by Downstream Strategies, LLC and WVU showed that if West Virginia farmers grew enough produce to meet the in-season fresh produce needs of all state residents, the shift would generate 1,723 new jobs and would result in about $190 million being retained in the state instead of flowing beyond its borders. Increased local sales of West Virginia products also creates the need for businesses that collect, process and distribute local food, which creates more local jobs. For example, one Iowa study found that every 1,000 cattle sent to small meat processing facilities supported 7.4 processing jobs.
So a common question that you might find asking yourself is… What exactly does “buying local” mean? There is no universally agreed-upon definition for the geographic component of what “local” or “regional” means, consumers are left to decide what local and regional food means to them. A 2008 survey found that half of consumers surveyed described “local” as “made or produced within a hundred miles” (of their homes), while another 37% described “local” as “made or produced in my state.” The ability to eat “locally” also varies depending on the production capacity of the region in question: people living in areas that are agriculturally productive year-round may have an easier time sourcing food that is grown or raised 100 miles (or even 50 miles) from their homes than those in arid or colder regions, whose residents may define “local food” in a more regional context.
The Morgantown Farmers’ Market, for example, sells products that are grown or made within 50 miles of Morgantown city limits. So all of their products are supporting small family farms.
So, West Virginia has developed a “food charter” that’s designed to help us all focus, measure and celebrate our collective progress towards stronger local food systems. This Road Map for the Food Economy offers a vision for WV’s local food economy and provides ways of measuring how statewide and local policies, programs, and community efforts are contributing to the strength of this food economy. The Road Map is broken down into 2 parts: an action plan for building a food and farm economy over the next 5 years; and a “Food Economy Score Card” which allows us to measure the cooperative progress towards the goals of the action plan. The Food Economy Score Card will be updated annually and then the positive changes and progression will be distinguished in an annual report.
This Road Map is for everyone!It’s offered more as a tool to help people (and consumers) in West Virginia understand the key opportunities of the food policies and economy. Local government, citizens groups, policy makers, farmer groups, foundations, agencies, economic developers and other concerned groups are invited to adopt or adapt the Road Map as a guide to form an action plan for their own efforts.
So, how can you get involved?
– Adopt the Road Map for the Food Economy charter: encourage your local government, citizens group, legislators, farmer organization, community foundation, economic developers or other concerned agencies to sign on at
– Stay connected to statewide organizing efforts through the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition by signing up for our newsletter, and by attending statewide events hosted by other groups — such as the West Virginia Small Farm Conference, hosted by WVU Extension Service and its West Virginia Small Farm Center.
– Buy Local: set a goal for how much your family, business or agency will spend on local food. At home, consider buying at least $10 worth of locally produced food per week. At work, consider sourcing at least $500 worth of local food for events and meetings each year.
– Find simple ways to work on the Road Map’s action items within your own community. Tell your school superintendent about the importance of Agriculture Education; let a farmer know about farm to school opportunities, or help start a nutrition education class at your local farmers market. If you are part of a civic organization, help that organization choose an action item to work on this year.
Why should the Road Map matter to you?
The problem that I’m really trying to shine light on is the fact that food access has a HUGE effect on food insecurity in the U.S. right now. The State Indicator on Fruits and Vegetables 2013 reports that the percentage of census tracts with at least one healthier food retailer within a ½ mile of tract boundary in West Virginia is at 59.3%. Currently, West Virginia does not have a healthier food retail policy. West Virginia also does not currently have a state-level farm-to-school/preschool policy. The entire state only has 1 food hub. Yes, only one! And West Virginia has no local food policy councils. That’s right… zero!
As a community why can’t get try to enclose this gap in food access with the products that are right in front of us? Well, only time will tell how this community attempts to resolve this problem.