Producers and growers of “edible products” are invited to attend a meeting on Wednesday, March 25 to learn about the development of a food cooperative in the Potomac Highlands. Edible products include fruits and vegetables, meat and eggs, and the value-added commodities produced from them.
The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. and will be held at Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College’s main campus in Moorefield.
Eastern recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Promotion Program to explore the creation of a food co-op in the Potomac Highlands. Hardy, Hampshire, Mineral Grant, Pendleton, Pocahontas and Tucker are the included counties.
The grant, nearly $300,000 over three years, is specifically geared to planning, establishing or expanding locally and regionally produced agriculture food products and food system infrastructure.
“The college did a study two years ago,” said Amanda West, coordinator of the Potomac Highlands Food Co-op. “It showed the leading economic development opportunities involved tourism and agriculture.”
As a result of that study, Tina Metzer at Eastern and Nathan Bergdoll with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture established the Ag Action Council. The monthly meetings bring together agriculture producers and consumers for networking and information sharing.
“Though the Ag Action Council, it was determined that a co-op is the missing piece,” West said. “We will determine what users need and work with producers to meet those needs.”
For example, West said, users of local food, such as restaurants need consistency. “A cooperative can be that consistent piece in the middle,” she said.
Initially, West will be researching a number of things – what do local buyers want and what do local producers grow; what are the rules and regulations as they relate to food preparation and safety; what would a cooperative organizational structure look like?
“We definitely want the organization to be farm-centered,” she said. “Looking forward, we want to establish something that will be self-sustaining after the three years.”
The Ohio State University will be advisors on the project. The OSU College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences has a Center for Cooperatives which provides assistance with education and development, business and strategic planning, and resource development of the cooperative business model.
“We’ve also engaged with Garrett Growers in Maryland and Preston County Growers here in West Virginia,” West said. “Both have said they have made mistakes and are willing to share those, as well as their successes.”
The Potomac Highlands Food Co-op will also work closely with the WV Department of Agriculture, the West Virginia University Extension Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and area farmers.
“We want to make it clear that we are not competing with established farmer’s markets,” West said.
“We want to compliment and support existing food-based businesses. We want to provide opportunities for farmers to sell on a larger scale to restaurants and other institutions that need a consistent supply of food.”
Food producers and growers can contact West with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.