Friday, January 28, 2011

Local Food Hubs Provide Opportunity to Local Producers and Consumers

WesMonTy RC&D is working to ensure equitable access of locally grown foods to all residents in WV, and through this work, WesMonTy RC&D has helped sow the seeds for local food hubs in WV. Two farmers markets in North Central West Virginia have taken on the responsibility of being local food hubs by addressing three major issues in the local food system: distribution, supply and access.

These two food hubs are showing the potential for accepting SNAP benefits at their markets, thus reaching the issue of food access. The Community Garden Market in Philippi accepts SNAP benefits through a single-point-of-sale system, and the South Morgantown Farmers Market offers a token system. Both of these markets are leading the way in North Central West Virginia by demonstrating the potential for SNAP access, thereby increasing equitable access for all consumers.

The Community Garden Market in Philippi offers a unique single-point-of-sale system that easily allows all vendors to accept EBT with no training on their part. This was the first farmers market in the state to offer EBT. This market has a single cash register, and all produce is identified by a number that corresponds with the producer so the producer does not need to be present. Upon checkout, the cashier rings up the items with their respective numbers to ensure that each vendor is credited for the purchase of their produce. The customer then has the option of paying with cash, SNAP, Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) vouchers or WIC FMNP coupons. The producer does not need to be in attendance at the market because the market is operated similar to a consignment shop. The market manager staffs the cash register and producers pay a 20% fee to help cover the operations of the market and the market takes care of the rest with most producers receiving semi-monthly checks from the market.

With the added benefit of produce aggregation and the potential to generate a single purchase order, growers for the community garden market have distributed produce to the Healthy Families Cooking Demonstration ( canning demonstrations), canning demonstrations ( as well as supplying produce for a fresh fruit and vegetable snack program in local schools ( This is a simple, locally driven solution to the distribution issue.

The South Morgantown Farmers Market is a traditional farmers market by which the producers direct market their goods. At this market a token system is utilized for SNAP purchases. This is a very easy process where the customer simply swipes their card at the EBT/Credit Card table and tells the cashier how much they would like. The cashier then gives the redeemed amount in wooden tokens. Each token is worth $1. To make the distinction between EBT and Credit Card transactions they use two different color tokens. The customer can then take these tokens to any vendor they choose to redeem for food products. The vendor accepts the tokens and redeems them at the end of the day with the market manager. This system works incredibly well at this market and opens the wide variety of available produce to the SNAP participant. It is important to mention that this system works great at markets in which vendors direct market their products. At these markets, single-points-of-sale are not necessarily an option so tokens in lieu of several EBT machines is effective.

The South Morgantown Market distributes produce to a local chef for his cooking schools. Chris Hall runs My Kitchen ( ) a small cooking school in Morgantown WV and appreciates the availability of locally grown produce he can integrate into his cooking classes.

Offering SNAP has several important benefits. Firstly, it encourages low-income residents to shop at the farmers market. When people go to a farmers market for the first time, they are generally surprised by the affordability, and it encourages them to return, thereby creating long-term customers. By exposing SNAP participants to farmers markets it also helps to break down the idea that local produce is expensive. Secondly SNAP benefits increase the earning potential for the producer at the market. Many SNAP benefits are spent on non-local convenience food, and that money is the lost to the local economy. By spending SNAP benefits locally, at the market, it is actually a boost to the local economy through the injection of outside money. Furthermore, that money will continue to circulate within the local economy several times generating even more benefit. Simply by offering this free service to customers and vendors, these two markets have both increased the income-earning potential of their producers and laid the foundation for healthier, local food to be on local tables, no matter a family’s socio-economic status.

WesMonTy RC&D has assisted the food hubs with the supply issue by offering assistance on affordable season extension techniques; specifically low tunnels to the historically underserved community of farmers of North Central West Virginia. The purpose of supplying season extension materials to local producers is to lower their entry risk into enhanced farming techniques, and also to supply the local food hubs with produce earlier in the season as well as later. WesMonTy RC&D has distributed low tunnel materials to several local producers, and both earlier and later season produce holds the potential for greater income.

The season extension materials have already seen many added benefits, as more produce was available at the markets this past season. Furthermore, a local producer who lives in a frost pocket has seen incredible results in protecting his plants from early frost. Lewis Jett, a horticulturalist at West Virginia University has continually provided our producers with an extraordinary amount of technical assistance.

WesMonTy has also organized growers meetings with the formation of the Tygart Valley Growers Association. This independent organization is a venue for growers to discuss production, marketing ideas, socialize and learn about farm bill conservation programs ( The association frequently features guest speakers including representatives from the USDA Rural Development, and the Farm Service Agency. This has considerable benefits for the group through the exploration of loan and grant programs. It has also benefitted the agencies by giving them easy contact with a large number of producers that they can service.

Recently the group organized a seed order through a popular catalog. This has the benefit of being able to receive generous discounts through bulk orders. The group as a whole ordered several hundred dollars worth of seeds.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Food Safety Liability Insurance

Lately, the issue of food liability insurance has been discussed very frequently. As the new food safety regulations passed in Congress late last year, the issue of food safety and the small farmer has been brought front and center. This topic is more relevant than ever.

Food Safety Liability Insurance has been discussed several times over the last few months within the Tygart Valley Growers Association. Previously the issue was discussed in the context of the group incorporating itself and selling large amounts of produce. The debate has changed for the organization with the new food rules.

Fortunately, the Community Food Security Coalition has released materials that speak on this topic. During the Food, Culture and Justice conference last October there was a presentation on food safety liability insurance. Those materials can be accessed here:
Scroll down to where it says Food Safety and Liability Insurance Issues for Marketing to Institutions and download the relevant materials.

They began on a report in 2009 on this issue and compiled a report in December:
"This report is a compilation of a yearlong project to study food safety and liability insurance issues and offer recommendations that emphasize proactive and cooperative attention. If you are a cooperative extension educator, agricultural professional, non-profit staff member, institutional food service provider, or producer involved in the institutional produce market, this report will help you better understand the history of these issues, the challenges for small or limited resource producers, and options for addressing these challenges."
The report can be found here:

They also created a brochure of information:
"If you are a producer selling produce to institutional markets like schools, universities, corporations, hospitals, and prisons, your buyers may have special concerns about food safety. They may want you to prove that you handle food in a safe manner. They may require you to buy special insurance to protect them and their customers. This brochure explains these issues."
This brochure can be found here:

Finally, from Campbell Risk Management, here is a resource for Farmers Market Vendor Liability Insurance:

A big thank you to The Community Food Security Coalition for providing these print resources.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Group Seed Order

Wednesday January 5th, 2011 saw a great achievement with the Tygart Valley Growers Association. Two members of the association, Nina Melvin and Mary Beth Lind, organized a group seed order and potluck. The gathering went incredibly well. We had 22 people attend and lots of Fedco catalogs on hand for everyone that needed them. Unfortunately Lewis Jett of WVU extension, had other commitments and could not attend. In his place, we distributed copies of his 2011 seed variety recommendations.

The night opened with a delicious potluck supplied by all the participants. Much of the food was grown by the producers and featured some home-made horseradish, some turnips, and fresh carrots. The problem with these events is that one's plate is never large enough!

After everyone had their fill, Ben Nemeth, Americorps VISTA Volunteer, spoke about the Tygart Valley Growers Association for all the non-members that were in attendance. Ben gave a short background on the organization and what it does. He also handed out several forms, one was a copy of seed variety recommendations made by Lewis Jett of WVU extension, and the other was an invitation to a farm to school program at the Small Farm Conference in February.

Next, Brenda Hunt from Heart and Hand House, inc. spoke. Heart and Hand House, a local faith-based organization runs the community garden market. She spoke about how much she has seen the market grow in the last several years and what a successful season they had this last year. She also talked briefly about the markets continuation through the winter. It will be open the third saturday of January, February and March. She also took questions and comments from the producers present in the room (all of them sell at the community garden market). Brenda also brought some of the new reusable shopping bags that were made up for the market.

Lastly, Mary Beth Lind spoke. Mary Beth Lind is a local author and dietician and helped to organize this event with Nina Melvin. Mary Beth spoke about how to use the catalog, and described the website for the ordering. She needs to have the orders in by the 15th at the latest. Mary Beth also mentioned that the group is already over the $300 required for the 20% discount. This means the remaining orders could help us to reach the next target of a 22% discount! I would like to take this time to thank Mary Beth Lind and Nina Melvin for organizing this event. It was a great success only because of their hard work and dedication to the group. Way to go!

We closed with individual conversations on seed varieties and planting advice from the more experienced growers in the group.

This is an event we would like to repeat for next year. We would like to have even more producers present for a 2012 seed order and aim for the 24% discount!

I would also like to thank Crim Church in Philippi for allowing us to use their facilities for this event.

One last thing. This seed order points to something much larger happening in West Virginia. The growth of this group over the last seven months has been extraordinary. Thanks to the size and commitment of the group, things are now possible that were not even being considered six months ago. This points to the larger notion that there is motivation for these types of programs and they can be successful in West Virginia. This is not only the case in Barbour County, but for the whole of WV.