West Virginia’s farmers markets are vibrant small business incubators for our state’s agricultural producers. As our economy continues to diversify and as agriculture becomes more of a focus in our economic development plans, the state’s almost 100 farmers markets continue to play a large part in assisting agricultural producers with getting their products to market and growing their farm-based businesses. They also serve as community gathering places and promote a healthier lifestyle, all while putting millions of dollars into the local economies they serve. The West Virginia Farmers Market Association (WVFMA) plans to continue assisting in their efforts by serving as a trainer, connector, resource provider, marketing advisor and voice for West Virginia’s farmers markets. Founded in 2007, the WVFMA is a member-based association consisting of farmers markets located throughout West Virginia. Its mission is to provide resources, make connections and enhance the economic growth and sustainability of West Virginia farmers markets. We strengthen viability of farmers markets across the state through trainings, toolkits, access to resources, meetings, surveys and policy work.
One of the first things we started a decade ago was to collaborate with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture to improve market food safety guidelines, resulting in a Farmers Market Vendor Guide and several policy clarifications. We also maintain the state’s most comprehensive Farmers Market Census where information is collected about farmers market stats and qualitative information such as common issues with vendor recruitment, volunteerism and youth programs at market. We additionally provide technical assistance, mini-grants, peer networking opportunities and data collection services so that our markets can make evidence-based decisions. We developed a Farmers Market Marketing Toolkit, a Farmers Market Business Planning Toolkit and a Farmers Market Vendor 101 Guide, available to download for free from the WVFMA website’s at www.wvfarmers.org. We also hold regional trainings, convened by the WVFMA and designed by a collaboration of statewide and local stakeholders in each location.
WVFMA works with farmers markets from the beginning, training farmers market vendors by providing market mentors to ensure their success. Members can receive mini-grants and attend a two-day boot camp where they learn from experts on topics such as budgeting and finance, managing risk, visual merchandising and customer service, post-harvest handling and navigating the applicable rules and regulations. We are working with the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition on a massive state-wide advertising campaign for our markets that we hope to launch next season.
WVFMA is supported by membership fees, grant dollars and fundraising efforts. One accomplishment we are especially proud of is the Farmers Market Recipe Challenge, where we partnered with the American Heart Association to collect healthy, authentic farm-fresh recipes from real West Virginians. This project focused on the storytelling aspect of the recipes gathered with the goal of changing the conversation around our state’s food culture and telling a healthy Appalachian food story. This beautiful cookbook, West Virginia Foods & Flavors, has been published and is available for purchase through our website.
We also help our farmers markets get involved in service to their communities through projects such as the Farmers Market Gleaning Project where we partnered with the Appalachian Foodshed Project to connect farmers markets to the emergency food system resulting in fresh, healthy, local food ending up in the pantries of low-income West Virginians. You will likely see us out providing training or visiting our markets for a listening tour or, during legislative session, at the state Capitol advocating for things like the cottage foods bill we believe will strengthen local food production and foster small business growth. As we celebrate our 10th anniversary as an association, we are more proud than ever to represent the diverse farmers markets of West Virginia.