WVSU Extension Service Assists Minority Farmers with Urban Agriculture Education

Contact: Jack Bailey
(304) 766-4109
July 9, 2021
WVSU Extension Service Assists Minority Farmers with Urban Agriculture Education
BERWIND, W.Va. – West Virginia State University (WVSU) Extension Service is helping minority farmers in McDowell County, West Virginia, discover the many career opportunities in urban agriculture. Through a partnership with McDowell County Farms, extension educators are bringing education and resources to people interested in launching agribusiness careers.

Established in 2014, McDowell County Farms is a farming cooperative association that works to bring exposure and awareness to the agricultural opportunities that exist within the region and to provide farmer training as a means of economic development in an area of the state facing issues such as high unemployment, poor health, and a lack of access to healthy, locally grown foods. 

“We’re probably the only all minority-run farm cooperative in the state of West Virginia,” said founder Jason Tartt. “Historically, in this region and this country, African-Americans have had major roles in agriculture, so we want to regain some of that and bring back some of that culture.”

So far, Tartt and his group are succeeding. At their farm location in Berwind, West Virginia, they have established an agricultural training facility that includes high tunnels and an orchard, with multiple plans for expansion. 

“We’ve met producers in other areas of the state who are trying to do something very similar to what Jason and his team are doing, especially in terms of tapping into formerly mined lands that are basically lying fallow,” said WVSU Extension Agent Kristie Martin. “I like that the idea is catching on of bringing in agriculture and transforming an extractive industry into something newly productive from which everyone can benefit.”

Martin is linking Tartt with educational programs, such as WVSU’s initiatives on cold storage, post-harvest technologies, and other resources to help expand the operation’s reach and impact.

“One of the things we needed to do was express what agriculture looks like in Appalachia,” Tartt said. “A lot of people, when they think agriculture, they see farming in the Midwest. We’re obviously not dealing with that type of terrain, so what does that look like here in Appalachia?”

What Tartt and his team have developed, he said, is an urban-like model that is also incorporating things like a hillside fruit tree orchard and a forthcoming apiary for beekeeping. The goal? To show the people in the region that opportunities exist to make a very good living in agriculture, and to illustrate how neglected properties in the county could become functional agribusiness enterprises.

“You have a lot of old infrastructure throughout this area that is either falling in or just sitting,” he said. “Agriculture, we believe, provides an opportunity, especially when you get into value-added products and manufacturing.”

Tartt is in talks with the owner of neighboring land to expand his operation, with initiatives such as maple syrup and honey production in the works, as well as a plan to grow specialty crop peppers and launch a crushed red pepper rub business. 

Through these initiatives and others, Tartt and his team are not only bringing new life to the area with training and economic development, but they’re also bringing the community together. A military veteran himself, Tartt said the farm co-op has participants that include other veterans, women and formerly incarcerated individuals interested in learning more about agriculture.

“I’ve been told that somebody’s got to do it or they won’t believe it can be done,” he said. “And we’re doing it. I think the sky is the limit.”

WVSU Extension Service is currently assisting McDowell County Farms with site preparations with plans to begin offering agricultural workshops on site in the months ahead. To learn more, contact WVSU Extension Agent Kristie Martin at kristie.martin@wvstateu.edu.

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West Virginia State University is a public, land grant, historically black university, which has evolved into a fully accessible, racially integrated, and multiā€generational institution, located in Institute, W.Va. As a “living laboratory of human relations,” the university is a community of students, staff, and faculty committed to academic growth, service and preservation of the racial and cultural diversity of the institution. Its mission is to meet the higher education and economic development needs of the state and region through innovative teaching and applied research.
Reasonable accommodations will be made to provide this content into reasonable alternate accessible formats upon request. Please contact the WVSU Extension Service office at (304) 204-4305 or extension@wvstateu.edu.
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