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WVDA Soliciting Vendors for Winter Blues Farmers Market

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) is now taking applications for vendors who wish to participate in the Winter Blues Farmers Market.

The market will take place Saturday, February 16, 1-5 PM at the Charleston Coliseum and Conference Center.

The Winters Blues Farmers Market originally took place in 2009 as a way to increase access to fresh foods outside the growing season.

“The Winter Blues Farmers Market is a great event that highlights West Virginia food and agriculture-based artisan and crafted products,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt. “As innovations allow farmers to extend the growing season, climate is becoming less of a factor on what and when we can eat locally. This is a great opportunity for producers to showcase their businesses.”

Applications are available on the WVDA’s website at https://agriculture.wv.gov.

Vendors in years past sold everything from just-bottled maple syrup to heirloom popcorn, farm-fresh eggs to goats’ milk soap.

Producers will also have fresh vegetables grown in greenhouses and high tunnels in the middle of winter.

Craft items must use materials produced or grown in West Virginia. Booths are $75 per vendor.

“We have to get folks to start treating agribusiness like any other. Part of that is an awareness that agricultural products are available even in the colder seasons,” Leonhardt said. “We hope to expand on past successful markets and have an even larger group of vendors this year.”

Last year’s Winter Blues featured 59 vendors, thousands of shoppers and $36,000 in sales.

All the money went straight to the producers. T

his year, organizers hope to feature even more West Virginia Grown products. 

For questions or more information, contact Connie Tolley at 304.558.2210 or ‘ctolley@wvda.us’. 

WVDA Announces 2019 Grants for Spay/Neuter Services

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) announced it will now be taking 2019 grant applications for West Virginia Spay Neuter Program (WVSNP). This is the second year in a ten-year funding cycle.

“Our goal is to ensure these monies are utilized efficiently. That is why we formed a committee to make decisions to fund the best applications,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt. “We believe this process helps the program accomplish its mission with a limited amount of funding.”

The purpose of the Spay and Neuter Assistance Fund is to offer grants to county entities to pay for spay/neuter services to help control feral, stray and abandoned populations. Eligible entities include, county or municipal shelters, animal control agencies and nongovernmental, 501(c)(3) entities incorporated in West Virginia. Individual pet owners are not eligible for direct grant funding.

“We were able to utilize $16,000 of grant monies to leverage $32,000 of spay and neutering services in 2018. We want to say thank you to the WVDA and the WVSNP for helping animals in Boone, Logan, Mingo, Lincoln and Roane Counties,” said Libby Minotti Ballard of the Fix’Em Clinic.

In 2018 the program granted $320,197 in WVSNP funds which, combined with grantee matches, totaled $536,950 in support. This led to 8,927 alterations of cats and dogs in 45 counties.

Applications can be found at https://agriculture.wv.gov/Pages/SpayNeuter.aspx and should be emailed to ‘spayneuter@wvda.us’ with supporting documents by Friday, February 01, 2019. For questions or more information, contact Andrew Yost, 304.389.9750, Connie Shoemaker, 304.538.2397 or email ‘spayneuter@wvda.us’. 

A New Awareness for West Virginia Agriculture

The Free Press WV

Freshman college quarterbacks in their first season make a lot of mistakes. But every year after, they continue to hone in on their craft becoming the field commander of their dreams. Here at the department, we are finishing up our sophomore year. Just like that quarterback, we feel we have hit our stride after tremendous growing pains in our first year. In 2018, we have accomplished numerous goals and objectives on our path to becoming a more efficient, as well as responsive agency that helps spurs economic growth in the Mountain State. Here are just a couple of our most proud successes.

We did a lot of planning this past year. As a former intelligence officer, planning ensures missions are completed and soldiers get back to their families. As the Commissioner of Agriculture, plans help identify weaknesses and strengths, as well as opportunities for growth. The West Virginia Agriculture Advisory Board has set out to create a 5-year strategic plan for how to grow the agricultural economy in West Virginia. Five hundred people completed a public survey in addition to over 400 people who attended community stakeholder meetings to provide input. Our next step is to bring this data to the Legislature as we develop a final plan for early next year.

The WVDA, in collaboration with the West Virginia Department of Education and West Virginia University Extension Service, announced a partnership to expand market opportunities for farmers. Under a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant, we will work together to develop a strategic plan for farm-to-school in West Virginia. The goal is to increase the availability of fresh foods in West Virginia schools, as well as new market opportunities for West Virginia farmers. We have a lot of hope for these efforts, but we can guarantee these plans will not sit on a shelf like so many other studies do. We promise to set achievable action items that help grow our agricultural economy.

Speaking of new market opportunities, in 2018 the WVDA relaunched the West Virginia Grown program. My team and I knew this program was being underutilized; we set out to revamp the program with new benefits and branding. Our first step was to gather input through online surveys and stakeholder meetings to help guide the expansion of program benefits, as well as bring new stakeholders into the process. After two rounds of voting, totaling more than 2,400 responses from producers and the public, the WVDA revealed the new logo for West Virginia Grown. We are already working through a second phase to incorporate what we are calling “affiliate members” to expand the branding’s reach. This will include restaurants, retail establishments and grocers who show a true commitment to local products. We know there is a $7 billion opportunity for growth through local food production; it is time we go after it.

As far as local health initiatives, we sought out partners and relationships in 2018 to expand on success stories. We know our efforts are working because partners have told us the department has never had this strong of a collaborative effort. In conjunction with Wheeling Health Right and Food Justice Lab WVU, we kicked-off the first year of the FARMacy Program on June 1st at the Wetzel County Hospital in New Martinsville. The program is encouraging patients to use produce in lieu of prescriptions for healthier outcomes. We also worked with the West Virginia Farmers Market Association, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources and the West Virginia State Parks System to host eight farm-to-table dinners from June 14th to September 27th. Each event took place at a state park restaurant, pairing locally grown produce and products for menu items. Both programs are great examples on how to expand local, fresh food options for rural communities.

We say it all the time, but nothing is ever accomplished without the right team in place.
I cannot be prouder of the folks we have brought into the department. Our team identified weaknesses within our own staff and structure then sought out qualified candidates to fill those gaps. It started with our division directors who have put into action a new, overarching philosophy beneficial to our objectives and missions. As we continue to grow and learn from one another, we promise to do everything possible to help write West Virginia’s comeback story. We are proud of what we accomplished in 2018 and we look forward to expanding on those successes in the coming year.

Kent A. Leonhardt
West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture

WV Commissioner of Agriculture Announces 2019 Legislative Priorities

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt announced his priorities for the 2019 Legislative Session. These priorities were developed by Commissioner Leonhardt, as well as staff at the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) who have been working with partners and lawmakers to identify polices to grow and enhance agriculture in West Virginia. In addition, the WVDA will be asking for several improvement packages through the budgeting process including a general appropriation for upgraded laboratory facilities.

“This will be our third legislative session, and I believe the most prepared we have been to make significant policy changes. We know agriculture can be an economic driver for the state but some of the Department’s code hasn’t been updated since the 1920s,” Commissioner Leonhardt said. “All of our priorities seek to modernize rules and regulations or provide more tools to our agribusinesses.”

The most significant initiatives are the re-passage of two bills vetoed in 2018, the Capital Improvement Fund (HB 4166) and the Ag General Counsel Bill (SB 322). New priorities include the transfer of Grade A milk regulation from DHHR to the WVDA, modernization of auctioneer code, development of an agriculture investment fund, the creation of a farm-to-school pilot project and the transfer of the West Virginia Division of Forestry to the WVDA.

“We have done our due diligence to identify strategies to grow our agricultural industries. This includes the development of a strategic plan for agriculture. We hope the strategic plan and our own initiatives will put us on the right path to growing agriculture in the state,” Leonhardt said.

In 2018, the WVDA, in conjunction with the West Virginia Farm Bureau, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, West Virginia Conservation Agency, WVU Extension Service, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and West Virginia State University Extension Service conducted an economic impact study to evaluate barriers to growth, as well as rising sectors in the agricultural industry. A public survey, combined with the results of several stakeholder meetings held throughout the State will be used in the development of the strategic plan. A draft plan will be released to lawmakers during session, with a final plan to be released in March 2019.

“We know agriculture has a place in West Virginia’s future. It is time we start taking agribusinesses seriously,” Leonhardt said. “By working with our partners, we have come up with a cohesive vision and strategy that will grow, not hinder, agriculture in the Mountain State.”

In addition to the agenda Commissioner Leonhardt has laid out, he will also be supporting several initiatives led by other organizations. This includes civil asset forfeiture reform, “Food Freedom” legislation, Right to Farm modernization and efforts to help source local products through West Virginia institutions.

For a full list of priorities click here.

For questions, contact Crescent Gallagher at 30.-558.3708 or ‘cgallagher@wvda.u’s

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