WVSU Agricultural Incubator Program Reaches 150 Farmers

Contact: Jack Bailey
(304) 766-4109
June 9, 2021

WVSU Agricultural Incubator Program Reaches 150 Farmers
A collaborative extension and research project at West Virginia State University (WVSU) led to the development of an agricultural incubator program in a rural southern West Virginia community that provided information and resources to more than 150 small farmers.
WVSU found that the southern region of the state had a lack of small farmers, and those that were attempting operations lacked knowledge about agricultural production and careers in the industry. Meanwhile, high unemployment and poverty rates, and poor nutrition and health practices, are rampant in the region. A comprehensive agricultural education program was needed to increase the knowledge base of prospective small-scale farmers about how to develop and sustain agricultural enterprises. 
In response, WVSU developed the Creating an Agriculture Incubator for Education in Southern West Virginia Program, which aimed to develop an agricultural training incubator at a former Air National Guard Armory facility to address the needs of small and rural farmers in agricultural production methodologies (such as aquaponics and hydroponics), assessment of local market needs, farm safety planning, post-harvest handling, and agricultural economic development. 
Extension educators hosted workshops and trainings and provided technical assistance to help participants become successful in their new agricultural careers. Scientists at WVSU also conducted fish nutrition-based studies on site and correlated the fish nutrition studies with the growth of fish and plants in an attempt to establish an aquaponics pilot project that can be used as is, scaled up, or integrated into existing systems for agricultural production. 
The grant-funded program, which recently concluded, met the needs of 156 farmers in the region by providing workshops and trainings on agricultural practices, developing affordable aquaponics systems through the use of cost-effective materials, and by enabling staff to provide advice and resources to participating farmers. The program established an agricultural training incubator program around agricultural production education that increased small and rural farmers’ knowledge of agricultural practices and knowledge of complementary agricultural methods. 
Overall, more respondents reported that they had at least moderate knowledge of agricultural practices after participating in the program (58%-83%) compared to before the program (33%-67%). Compared to the baseline survey, higher percentages of post-survey respondents were aware of and used complementary agricultural methods. A higher percentage of post-survey respondents indicated that they worked with local markets (50%) and worked with local restaurants (42%), compared to 12% of 49 baseline survey respondents and 10% of 48 baseline respondents respectively.
Research results revealed several factors to be considered before recommending such enterprise in this area, which include development of knowledge base for the operation, selection of most adaptable plants for the system, solving water quality problems (high iron and high alkalinity), and assigning comparative value/gain for both plant and fish (which is more important: fish or vegetable or both) based on the cost of input. 

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