Serve Family Farmers
What WV Can’t Wait For
Every farmer should be able to make a decent living, and every West Virginian should have access to good food produced right here in our state.
Whose Side We’re On
- Family farms and family farmers
- Community gardens tackling hunger in West Virginia
- Working West Virginia farmers and citizen property owners
- Local, West Virginia hemp farmers
- Businesses that support local food and small farmers
… and more. Click the links above to read stories from the trail.
What We’re Up Against
Small and mid-size farms are the backbone of any stable economy. They provide healthy food, middle class jobs, and protection for our land and water. By contrast, Big Agriculture today has become an extraction industry making it hard for farmers to survive–let alone expand and hire more workers–and negatively impacting rural communities.
One chicken farmer we met on the trail raised half a million chickens one year for Perdue. While Perdue made billions in profit, he and other farmers hadn’t seen a raise in more than a decade.
Like many states, West Virginia once had many mid-size and small farms, but no longer. In the US, most cropland was once on farms of 600 or fewer acres, and that has nearly doubled to 1100.
Meanwhile, our state government has not responded to the small farmer crisis, and as a result, West Virginia farms are on the decline. We have also lost a generation of potential farmers. Equally troubling, little of the money we spend on food in state stays here. Instead, it also goes to large chains and food distributors.
With changing climate patterns and worldwide economic shifts, West Virginia could become the best place in America for small farmers, if we have a government that backs them. Our high elevation, abundant water, and central location on the Eastern seaboard make us an ideal place for food and farm production, and distribution.
We can reinvent and reinvest in this sector of our economy–creating new jobs, healthier food, and more wealth for our people, but only if we shift our public policy toward small farms, local foods, and regenerative agriculture.
- Inject capital into small and family farms. Through a State Bank, and as part of our Small Business Revolution, provide 500+ forgivable loans and venture capital grants per year to support new farms, ag cooperatives, niche industries (i.e. a growing maple industry), and farm expansion in order to support small and medium farms and cooperatives that are often undercut by large producers.
- This would also include the creation of an active farm supply lending program (akin to the Carolina Farm Credit and Virginia Farm Bureau). Farm lending mechanisms are key in that the terms for loans follow how farmers get paid and are not on a monthly schedule.
- We must also penalize predatory corporate lenders and reform the corporate chicken house model that “denies the consumer an independent market, and… extracts wealth from the independent farmer.” The Big Ag model owns everything but the farm, because they want to make sure farmers bear the risks, while they reap the profits.
- Institute a “Big Box Tax” on large retailers and chain restaurants responsible for undercutting the local economy, and establish a Farmers Taxpayer Council to determine how best to use the revenue to promote small and mid-size farming in WV. Recommendations by the council might include a combination of the following:
- Provide marketing assistance to small and mid-sized West Virginia farmers, and get West Virginia back in the supply chain regionally. Establish a well-funded marketing division for West Virginia Agriculture akin to VDACs Marketing Division in Virginia.
- Promote and incentivize the creation and expansion of farmers cooperatives like the Wayne County Farmers Co-Op, and encourage reclaimed mine land to be used for agriculture.
- Pilot a “sustainable ag park” model that has worked in other states.
- Provide assistance to local farmers seeking Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and organic certification. These certification processes are cost-prohibitive and time-intensive for small farmers.
- Make West Virginia more friendly to local cattle and livestock farmers. Assist producers in bringing their products directly to consumers if they wish (farm to fork direct marketing), and incentivize pasture and land improvements, a stronger relationship with large animal veterinarians, and regional cooperation. West Virginia farmers need direct buying and selling power.
- We must do everything in our power to break up the agricultural monopolies. Four companies own 80% of the beef market. We will strengthen our anti-trust laws to better protect small farmers
- Start a program to provide access to capital, land, and markets to farmworkers and meat/poultry packing floorworkers so they can choose to transition to farm ownership/management.
- Train 11,000 young and older student West Virginia food producers over the next 10 years. Make available to every high-schooler a four-year education track in Sustainable Agriculture and Vocational & Business/Entrepreneurship in Agriculture, including learning about vertical farming, transforming abandoned buildings into indoor farms, urban farming, smallhold farming, forest farming, and more. We can raise a generation of smart consumers, avid farmers, and people committed to regenerative agriculture.
- Advance the Garden Based Learning model statewide, and expand existing West Virginia models that give students the opportunity to grow food for profit during the summer.
- Support public school garden coordinators at the county level, in partnership with Extension.
- Encourage state colleges to provide 2-year (associate) degrees in Sustainable or Local Agriculture, and expand from there. In the WV Department of Agriculture, prefer to hire those who have degrees from WV schools, and/or experience or educational foci on subjects relating to promoting small farms rather than Big Ag.
- Encourage the purchase of WV and regionally-grown foods, and include assertive branding/promotion of WV-produced foods and products by refining incentives for chain restaurants, food distributors, etc.
- Support locally-owned restaurants that source food and equipment from local producers. (see also our Small Business Revolution).
- Give clear options to consumers at the point of sale. Incentivize grocery store chains, including and especially those owned outside the state, to create a “WV Produced” section and to stock it. If they don’t, tax them to support local Agriculture. Over time, expand in-store labeling to include information to consumers on the basics of their produce: how far it traveled, what chemicals were used, and what percentage of the cost of the item will go to the farmer.
- Aggressively fund & expand West Virginia Farm to School. When products cannot be sourced in West Virginia, support local small farms from neighbors (within 300 miles) to build regional smallholding ag capacity.
- Establish “Research Centers of Excellence” at West Virginia trade schools, technical colleges and universities that drive innovation around hemp, cannabis, climate-adaptable farming, and other cutting-edge practices. This may also include county research farms, through Extension. Also see our Cannabis Legalization plan, which explains how we will prioritize small farms in this industry.
- Pay farmers to carbon sink and aggressively fund climate-adaptable animal research. Work to make West Virginia farmers a national leader in fighting climate change, while also helping West Virginia farmers get ahead of the curve, and help pioneer the shift from conventional to regenerative farming techniques.
- Fight to end hunger in West Virginia.
- Eliminate red tape for EBT, SNAP, and WIC recipients so we are no longer hurting the hungry or our farmers by keeping people from accessing food.
- Permit EBT, SNAP, and WIC recipients to use their benefits online at local stores for delivery and pick-up.
- We will also support the use of SNAP dollars for local food.
- Support expansion of school food programs to include afterschool meals and summer food programs statewide (see also our Education Plan).
- Grow, coordinate, and support a network of backpack programs, faith-based feeding programs, senior feeding programs, food pantries, and other private sector groups.
- Increase funding for Food Banks.
- Support the implementation of the Food for All recommendations.
- Explore ways to strengthen food distribution networks in WV; purchase food that would otherwise be wasted, and distribute it to food banks, homeless shelters, recovery centers, senior feeding centers, and more.
- Find ways to allow and encourage homeowners to rent or barter unutilized land for community gardens, or to small, local agricultural producers for grazing or sowing. Having our communities able to produce more of our own food will help address food insecurity and build community.
- Partner with the Extension Service to distribute seeds in the spring with school lunches—and make it available for others to sign up to receive seeds in the mail for certain staples, for a nominal fee to cover postage.
- Provide urgent funding and assistance for local farmers markets across the state, including distribution or expansion to small towns and rural areas, so people don’t have to drive far to get fresh food, and so farmers can sell directly to consumers.
- Reform and modernize laws that lead to mass food waste.
- Require state institutions to source locally and regionally first. The West Virginia Fresh Food Act was a good start, urging state-funded institutions to spend at least 5% of their food budget locally. We must expand this to 20% over the next 3 years, and provide stronger enforcement for the law.
- Continue to update the outdated food code, and streamline regulations to encourage cottage industries and small producers. With commercial food packing industries unsafe and breaking down, we will review regulations on cottage industries so small farmers and producers can more easily sell eggs, baked goods, soaps, jellies, pickles, and other home-produced goods.
- Protect West Virginia land and investments from Big Ag producers, or out-of-state corporations seeking to control, own or foul our water resources. (See Homestead Act and the Protect Our Land, Water, and Working People plan).
- Explore expanding on private-public community grants through U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Appalachian Regional Commission, private partnerships, etc., and reallocating funds from programs out-of-step with producing a robust and prosperous agricultural sector, healthy West Virginians, and a skilled, entrepreneurial workforce.
How We Pay For It
Revenue: Up to $45 million from a “low-wage fee” on employers with more than 500 employees: For large businesses with more than 500 employees in West Virginia, a fee of $1.00 per employee hour worked at below $15/hour would be levied (Big Box Tax).
Costs: ~$35 million, with the Farmers Taxpayer Council determining how best to invest it to help West Virginia farmers, choosing from options such as those listed above. (Rough costs below.)
- Provide agricultural marketing assistance to farmers. (~$3-5 million)
- Offer tax breaks to local farm supply stores and farm equipment cooperatives. ($2-3 million)
- Encourage new farms for ag workers. (~$3-5 million)
- Pay farmers to carbon sink. ($3-5 million)
- Support sourcing local food and agricultural products. ($2-3 million).
- Require state institutions to source locally and regionally. ($3-5 million)
- Train food producers. (~$8-10 million)
- Expand WV Farm-to-School. (~$3-5 million)
- Establish Research Centers of Excellence. (~$3-5 million)
- … and other possibilities such as providing certification assistance to small farms, advancing a garden-based learning model in public schools, offering more agricultural classes, incentivizing “WV Produced” sections in all grocery stores operating in WV.
Every one of our New Deal plans was written by West Virginians.
- Our volunteers asked 11,000 of their neighbors, “What would you do if you were Governor?”
- Our candidates attended 197 Town Halls, taking notes in community centers, church basements, union halls, and small businesses.
- Educators met after work to start sketching out their perfect school.
- Nurses traded ideas on the picket line.
- Our county and constituency captains ratified a first platform in the fall of 2019 and updated it in the spring of 2020 to reflect the current pandemic.
But the legacy of this New Deal dates back to John Brown and Mother Jones, to the United Mine Workers of America and the suffragettes, to the Poor People’s Movement and the CIO.
No one politician or slate of candidates can win this plan alone. We need you.
If you have an idea for how to make this plan stronger, or if you would like to lend a hand to win it, contact our candidate for Governor Stephen Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.