Local foodies brainstorm in Marlinton
Representatives from Pocahontas County Schools, the Pocahontas County Farmers Market, the WVU Extension office, High Rocks, farmers and elected officials all met at the McClintic Library in January to talk about expanding local foods in the county.
Jill Young, coordinator of the Greenbrier Valley Local Foods Initiative, said the idea was to coordinate, develop, and support farmers in the region and bring economic returns for their efforts back to their farms.
“You were invited to be here so that we could come together as a community in Pocahontas County and look and see what everyone is doing in their own little pockets and work together and start networking,” Young said. “We're here to learn from each other and connect with each other, to see how we can take this local foods initiative forward.”
Leslie Schaller, of ACEnet helped facilitate the meeting. Schaller said she's been involved with local foods for quite a while.
“I usually say about 40 years,” she said. “I've worn a lot of different hats — primarily organic gardening, a little bit of farming, a little bit of livestock raising. Back in the late 70s and early 80s I was involved in a worker-owned business that does both a food service restaurant operation, as well as food processing.
“For the last 22 years I've been working for ACEnet, which is a community-based economic development organization that has really focused on food entrepreneurship and regional agriculture,” Schaller said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for me to come and visit with you today and learn more about the food system and sort of reinvention of the local food economy in this part of the state.”
Lisa Dennison started working as Pocahontas County Schools food service director in April.
“I think we have some amazing resources and amazing foods and we're growing amazing things. I think that knowledge is power and I'm so excited to be in this room because you guys are the ones that are making all these things happen. I can help and be a part of what you're doing, and we can help those kids. I just want our community to work together. I don't see myself as a director, I see myself as a servant. So, help me, help you,” Dennison said.
Liza Dobson is an AmeriCorps volunteer and works as the Farm-to-School coordinator in Pocahontas County. She said she's working to develop lasting, sustainable relationships with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving school nutrition and supporting local farmers.
“We're also trying to integrate lessons into the schools to help teach kids about nutrition, cooking, how to grow food — things like that,” said Dobson.
Dobson said she is looking for local producers who are willing to work in the school system teaching students.
"Anyone who is interested in teaching the kids how to grow fruits and vegetables in workshops,
we have resources available and classroom settings. Anybody that has expertise, we have classrooms for you to get in front of.”
Dobson said she is also working with the FFA to try to empower kids to grow their own food and pursue a healthier lifestyle. She also hopes to get some grants written to buy high tunnels or chickens for the schools.
“We're trying to help,” Dobson said. “We're not trying to tell people what to do, we're not trying to put anyone out of business, we're not trying to force anyone to eat anything. We just want people to know we have their best interests in mind.”
Pocahontas County commissioner David Fleming said he is always interested in helping to fund proposals.
“One of the projects that I'm most proud of that the commission supported is one Lynmarie [Knight] is associated with — leading the way on — the Pocahontas County Water Resources Task Force,” said Fleming. “Because of her work, and others, we're looking to be the only county in the state that will submit to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, a county-based plan on water resources. That's one of the efforts I'm most proud of.”
Fleming said local foods is another idea he is interested in.
“What I'd like to see is more requests to the Pocahontas County Commission for local food support, financial support,” said Fleming. “I have to say, I don't know of any requests that have come to us lately. A lot of groups come to us and ask for money, and we actually kind of like giving money away.”
Dennison said one of the setbacks the schools are facing are a lack of cold storage and a processing facility.
“We need a warehouse, a facility,” she said. “And with all these devastating storms and things we've had, it's something the community should have.”
Fortunately, all the right people were in the same room at the same time.
“One thing that does come to mind about having a facility — the county does own a building, the old Hanover shoe building,” Fleming said. “There may be some flood plain issues there, I'm not sure, but it is a large building and the county owns it. We currently lease it to John Fitzgerald and J.P. Duncan as the Allegheny Recreation Center, but they've turned around and sub-letted some of that space back to us for use as the animal shelter. Very recently the day report center was relocated down there. We have a track record of putting money into that building and doing renovations. I know I'm speaking for the other commissioners as well when I say that we are interested in what we can do to utilize that building more thoroughly. There's an opportunity to use a county-owned asset. I would encourage you to check into that.”
Dawn Baldwin Barrett, owner of Brightside Acres, said this is her third year being a part of the Pocahontas County Farmers Market. She said she has a well established garden at her farm, apple trees,
stands of native berries, and a small vineyard.
“My personal mission is to grow high-quality fruits and vegetables and sell them,” Barrett said. “It's the most satisfying thing I've ever been a part of. It's the hardest work, it's ridiculously labor-intensive but it's so satisfying to grow beautiful things and knowing people are going to eat them.”
Joe Riley said he was there for two reasons. Riley serves as principal at Marlinton Middle School, and is a farmer himself.
“One of my big concerns is some of what my kids are eating,” said Riley. “If it doesn't look good and it doesn't taste good, they're not gonna eat it. Everything I see going across those food bars in the cafeteria line — we could grow here.”
Greg Hamons, WVU agriculture and natural resources extension agent for Pocahontas County said he wants to do anything he can to help.
“My main mission as ag extension agent here is teaching and service,” said Hamons. “I think the most important thing here for me to talk about, as far as what I can do is — part of the extension service — we've got educational materials and speakers to come in and teach.”
“I'm really excited,” Hamons said. “I can see the growth the last three or four years. We're getting some food products in the school system, and it's starting to grow around the state. Definitely a lot of positive growth since I've been here. Anything I can do to provide service or help out in any way, I'm willing to do that.”