The West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition’s policy program advocates for local, state and national policies that reflect the voices of West Virginia’s food and farm community, and support a resilient and equitable food system. The Coalition works to introduce bills in the state legislature that support family farmers, taking a political approach to a broad array of challenges. Farm Aid funding allowed for the Coalition to introduce three legislative bills in 2016 that may, with a lot of elbow grease, become laws that will aid WV farmers, food business owners, nutrition experts, service providers, nonprofit organizations, food bank representatives and community members.
One of the three bills introduced this year was the Cottage Foods Bill, affectionately nicknamed The Pickle Bill. It focuses on helping small farmers who are doing home-based processing and selling their products locally. Farmers’ markets in West Virginia account for direct sales of more than $2 million and are a healthy source of income for many WV small farmers, as well as a vital part of many WV communities. In some rural communities plagued by food deserts, farmers markets serve as the only opportunity for folks to get fresh food.
Home-based, micro-processing allows farmers to preserve produce by canning it. This benefits the farmer by eliminating food waste and securing a source of year-round income. Consumers also gain from this bill by having access to vegetables throughout the year. The legislation’s proposed safety protections would boost agricultural economic development by allowing canned items to be sold at farmers’ markets, farmstands, consignment farmers’ markets, online farmers’ markets, fairs and festivals. The goal is to “preserve” the culinary art of canning that is vital to West Virginia culture.