A Public-Private Partnership Proposal for Beckley, WV
The Farm to Table Marketplace will expand on existing farm markets available to residents of Southern West Virginia to create a year round local, upscale food market in Beckley. This operation will give regional, local food producers, a hub for their products that is conducive to comfortable, affordable shopping for the consumer instead of the current short seasonal window weekly markets provide.
Making Local Food a daily way of life for the consumer in southern West Virginia is our goal.
As West Virginians struggle to cope with the loss of jobs in coal mines and other extractive industries, finding jobs in the “new economy” sector has been difficult for much of the state. In a recent study, West Virginia was shown to be the only state in the union with less than half our workforce participating. Additionally, unemployment in the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA) counties has increased from 4.6% to 7.8% in two years and the state poverty rate has increased by 4.4% since 2009
Meanwhile, the local food economy in West Virginia is expanding and there are hundreds of small and micro farms in southern West Virginia that can be utilized for food production. Many people who have struggled to find employment can not only establish reliable income from their land but also learn skills that can lead them to sustainable lifestyles that build self-worth.
The economic impact from creating a vibrant marketplace for locally produced foods is real. There are potentially thousands of small scale producers that can participate in selling foods through a properly managed, marketed and maintained aggregation system. This can lead to millions of dollars in revenues that stay in the community, create sustainable lifestyles for the producers, and change health standards regionally.
According to Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick, West Virginians currently consume approximately $7.3 billion per year in food, yet only produce around $675 million. The $6.5 billion difference provides a prime opportunity for the agriculture industry in West Virginia to expand their operations, produce and sell more goods, and, ultimately, create more wealth in local communities.
West Virginia has long been known as a family farm state with the vast majority of farming operations being owned not by corporate agricultural operations, but by local families. Translate that another way and these are West Virginia businesses owned, managed, and operated by West Virginians. The problem that these farmers share is a reliable, year round market for their products. Another hurdle for many local farmers is that the majority of existing farmers’ markets are limited to only being open a few days a week during a growing season from May through October. While these markets definitely provide an additional opportunity for farmers to earn income, the fact that they aren’t regularly available throughout the year makes it difficult to project profits and losses. Additionally, there is a “hit and miss” aspect to the quality and availability of items at the markets. Consumers do not develop a habit of attendance. The limitation of a once-a-week or twice–a-week market is that it does not create any convenience or consistency for the consumer. Marketplaces are building an “eat healthy” platform but then require it to be done on the farmers schedule instead of making it easy for the buyer. The upgrade to a daily store will increase the demand for local foods by providing convenience and reliability to the business plan.
Uniquely in this state, the Wild Ramp in Huntington is currently open 12 months a year, 6 days a week offering a variety of produce, meats, and value- added items. This model has created an increasingly successful business that has seen profits grow nearly every month for 30 months, and has returned nearly $600,000 into the local economy. The Wild Ramp operates as a non-profit organization, but has received support from both the municipal, state, and federal government. We seek to build upon this model by creating an actual public-private partnership around a local food aggregator and marketplace in Beckley for not only the residents of Beckley and Raleigh County but several bordering counties in southern West Virginia.
The FARM TO TABLE Marketplace in Beckley, WV would source food from within a 100 mile radius with a commitment that over 75% of all meats and produce would come from within 50 miles. The local producers would benefit greatly from this model of aggregating local foods to a sophisticated and inviting shopping environment. Currently, we have relationships with over 60 local food producers in the counties of Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, Summers, Greenbrier, Monroe, Kanawha and others, and just within in the NRGRDA service area there are more than 200 producers that are potential clients. This number represents only a very small cross section of the growers that could grow from this collaboration. The potential to add growers, create opportunities for small farmers and develop supply chain strategies that can benefit even displaced workers, veterans and handicapped individuals is tremendous.
The proposed partnership with Greenbrier Nurseries would leverage the best of the public and private entities involved. As a 501(C) 6 corporation, NRGRDA has the ability to apply for funding from governmental sources with its non-profit partner, Forward Southern WV, eligible for foundation grants. As a for profit business with deep roots in the community and experience in agriculture, Greenbrier Nurseries provides operational knowledge of the business that would be unavailable for a start-up non-profit. By combining the resources of these two entities, you create a powerful partnership that can leverage the best of the public and private sector.