FRANKFORD (WVDN) – New pathways for farmers to sell their product are continuing to grow in Greenbrier County.
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture has opened doors for local farmers to deal directly with local customers on a retail level.
This is an opportunity for more sustainable income for area farmers and an opportunity for residents to enjoy the product being made in their own area.
Programs include West Virginia Grown which started in 1986, Farm to Table and Farm to Schools. These programs are accredited by the state Department of Agriculture which provides leadership and education to the farmers who participate.
Part of the state programs guidance is on marketing, so that even tourists to Greenbrier County can appreciate and partake in the bounty of area farms. Another part is a branding, always aiming to suggest quality and economy.
Summer Lynn & Company is a new brick and mortar location in Frankford just north of Frankford Elementary school on Rt. 219. Owner Kim Kellison grew up on the Hanna dairy farm on nearby Butler Mountain, and she still has farm duties while she manages the new store.
Besides helping her parents with the dairy, she has her own stock that she is now raising to sell retail in her own store.
Kellison opened the store in November of 2021, offering her own beef and lamb products. A second showroom hosts area jams, jellies, soaps, a multitude of crafted products and gifts from the local area. She has increased her meat freezer contents with pork from Spring Creek Superior Meats. Lately she has added some locally baked rolls and breads and is considering a fruit and vegetable section as well.
Another Greenbrier farmer who is building his retail operation is Kevin Mullins of Spring Creek Superior Meats.
Mullins has developed his retail business by placing his product in freezers at six locations the length of Rt. 219 from Hillsboro to Ronceverte. His product line includes beef and pork. His frozen product is for sale at Summer Lynn in Frankford, Baldwin’s Exxon Station in Renick, Levels Depot in Hillsboro, Tri-County Produce in Ronceverte, Frankford Exxon, and at his own farm located north of Frankford where he offers home delivery services as well.
Like Kellison, Mullins also grew up on a Greenbrier County farm. His father proudly lives as his neighbor and still helps when there are roundups to be made. Mullins is on his farm doing what farmers do most days, but the satellite retail locations do keep him moving to restock, and he does have to take his animals to processing and then bring back the finished product to his farm.
The USDA has inspections and certifications at a few local facilities, the State Department of Agriculture also has inspectors at meat processing locations and also will go to the individual farms, and the Greenbrier County Health Department inspects the retail freezers for proper housing of the product waiting to be sold. These various routes for inspection try not to overlap, they cooperate to get the area product legally inspected and certified for health protection of consumers.
Mullins stated, “The state-level inspected product cannot be sold in Virginia – it only can be sold within the boundaries of West Virginia.” A USDA inspectors’ stamp allows multi-state marketing.
Tourists can purchase in West Virginia and then take the product home with them, and that is one benefit for his retail freezers at gas stations on Rt. 219 and for Summer Lynn & Co., being located on Rt. 219 going north from Lewisburg. Potential customers driving to tourist destinations may stop along this route. A vacuum sealed frozen package of hamburger, steak, ribs or sausage all may end up in tourist hands.
Near Savannah Lane on Rt. 219, closer to Lewisburg and locally identified as Maxwelton, is the multi-faceted Dave’s Farm Supply, where David Ray has served his customers with an ever-growing variety of farming supplies for many years.
Quality gates, fencing, feed, tools, animal maintenance products, and now live poultry, eggs, greenhouse plants – the list is never ending because he serves his client’s needs.
Dave’s now carries frozen meat from Ray’s own cattle. The cuts of meat are listed and priced competitively with the other farmers selling in Northern Greenbrier area. He has been a source for fresh farm eggs for a while now, and to offer the frozen hamburger, steaks, roasts, and more, was a natural evolution for his business.
The state program of West Virginia Grown is under the umbrella of the Department of Agriculture, and the plan coordinator for Southeast West Virginia and some of Central West Virginia is Ashley Amos.
Amos says she does a lot of her work from home in Summersville, thanks to the internet, because this is a huge geographical area for one person to cover. She can meet face to face with the program members at the Lewisburg area NRCS office or the county Extension office by appointment, so she does travel to this area occasionally.
A series of internet videos has been produced to aid farmers in production as well as marketing under the West Virginia Grown label. These webinars started in 2020 and now total over 30 programs titled West Virginia Grown “Homesteading.” You can search for “West Virginia Grown Homesteading” on YouTube to locate these videos.
Every month a new episode is produced and initially contained a panel discussion at the end of each. Now most are a straight face-to-face lesson lecture from a West Virginia farmer, and they last about 15-30 minutes. It is a great way to celebrate the wide array of products and the expertise of the state’s members.
Each section of the video is pre-cataloged so if you want to review just a portion of one you can tag that section and directly enter the video on that topic location. For instance, the video on dairy production has a section on farm liability insurance. That particular topic might be of interest to other producers and cover more than just dairy issues.
The self-sufficient living skills outlined in the “Homesteading” series can benefit consumers as well as the West Virginia Grown members.
Farm to Table is a widely promoted program and advertised heavily to reach consumers. For area farmers it is a wholesale process of farmers selling to restaurants or to catering parties promoting the local product in a “plated” form. These restaurants and dining venues do a great service to the industry by inspiring the customers to buy local because of a superior quality of product for their home kitchen as well.
The key to success for local farmers to reach the retail level of customers, and reap the highest income from their product, is the availability of County Health, USDA and state Department of Agriculture inspectors, as their product can be credentialed as pure, clean and healthful if it can be inspected and labeled by one of these programs. For bakery products the rules are a bit more lenient allowing labeling to guide the consumer by saying “commercial kitchen” or “non-commercial kitchen.”
Then it is up to the purchaser to read all the labeling to determine its source; and certainly well-worthwhile to do the research and support these new economic pathways in West Virginia and the Greenbrier Valley.