CHARLES TOWN — West Virginia has enough fertile farmland to supply its own residents with all their fresh fruit and vegetable needs during the growing season — and to stimulate new jobs and millions of dollars in local sales.
That’s the opinion of a new study released recently from Downstream Strategies, West Virginia University and the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition.
“Some of the key findings in this groundbreaking study was that growing produce would require less than 10 percent of West Virginia’s undeveloped prime farmland,” said Lesley Suppes, media outreach coordinator.
Suppes said creating this commodity would also generate 1,723 new jobs and contribute an additional $35.7 million in local sales.
“According to our study, if West Virginians bought their fruits and vegetables from local farmers during the growing season, about $190 million would stay in the state instead of flowing beyond its borders,” said Downstream Strategies President Evan Hansen.
“These locally spent dollars would circulate in the economy as farmers spend more at supply stores and on other goods and services.”
Support in growing West Virginia’s food economy is evidenced by the rapid growth in statewide farmers’ markets, which have more than doubled in the past decade.
“By understanding the revenue-generating potential of meeting our own produce needs during the growing season, we hope this study will stimulate conversation about further supporting West Virginia agriculture,” said Savanna Lyons, program manager for the West Virginias Food and Farm Coalition.
“Many people think our state doesn’t have enough farmland to grow a significant portion of its own food, but we are very agriculturally productive, and have plenty of room to grow.”
The study’s authors also emphasize the importance of protecting the state’s existing prime farmland from nonagricultural uses, and encouraging new produce farmers as well as the growth of existing farms.
The study provides a research base for the West Virginia Food Charter, which will serve as a roadmap toward a stronger local food system by providing ways to measure how statewide and local policies, programs, and community efforts are contributing to the strength of that food economy.