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W.Va. farmers' market spreads out

August 05, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

INWOOD, W.Va. - Bridget Covell, of Martinsburg, W.Va., didn't know about the hoopla at the Inwood Farmers' Market when she decided to stop in for some fruit on Tuesday.

Covell, 26, a teacher at Gerrardstown (W.Va.) Elementary School, happened upon an open house celebrating the state-owned market's recent expansion, which more than doubled its size and substantially broadened its inventory.

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Along with bins, baskets and boxes of beans, peppers, grapes, peaches and other fresh produce, she found shelves, tables and racks stocked with jars of pickled vegetables, fruits preserves and sauces.

Also for sale was an assortment of wine, baking mixes, bath products, country crafts and herbs for cooking, drinking and soaking in - all made in West Virginia.

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"It's much bigger. It's nice," said Covell, who said she grew up in a farm area and prefers to buy her produce at a farmers' market rather than at a roadside stand or grocery store.

"I always feel more comfortable here ... because they have better produce," she said.

The future of family farms in West Virginia would be more certain if more customers thought like Covell, according to state and federal agriculture officials, who say farmers' markets like the one in Inwood give smaller farmers a chance to make a decent profit.

"Many times, for family-sized farms, it can be the difference between staying in business and going out of business," said Michael V. Dunn, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's marketing and regulatory programs, who co-hosted the open house with West Virginia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gus R. Douglass.

"The bottom line is it has to be profitable," said Douglass, whose agency owns and operates the Inwood Farmers' Market.

For the past decade, the state Department of Agriculture has been cultivating a growing group of entrepreneurs who take commodities grown in the state and produce "value-added" products, ranging from wine to barbecue sauce, said Bob Williams, director of marketing for the agency.

While promoting agriculture, the strategy creates jobs for people involved in food processing, Williams said.

Last year, the agency decided to use the then-small Inwood Farmers' Market as a prototype in marketing some West Virginia-made products, Douglass said.

The Eastern Panhandle was chosen because of its growing population and the number of locally made products, he said.

The response was overwhelmingly positive, prompting the decision to expand the market's size to offer a greater selection of the state's growing array of products, Douglass said.

The expansion project, finished in April, added 60 square feet to the indoor market, which was started more than 40 years ago as a packing shed for apples and peaches, said Assistant Manager Velma Butler.

Situated near Interstate 81 on W.Va. 51 in Inwood, the market attracts a lot of out-of-state people, some by the busload, Butler said.

While keeping them coming, she said she'd like to see more local people support the farmers' market, which sells only produce grown by West Virginia farmers, she said.

"I just want people around here to know we have farmers and good produce," said Butler, who owns a beef farm nearby.

Brenda and Fred Johnson, of Jones Spring, W.Va., said they didn't realize so many different products were made in West Virginia until they saw them displayed at the farmers' market.

It was the couple's first trip to the Inwood market, said Fred Johnson, 52, who said they go to farmers' markets from time to time because they tend to offer varieties of produce that can't be found at a supermarket.

"And I think the prices are better," he said.

Martinsburg resident Peggy Morris said she decided to check out the farmers' market after hearing about the open house on the radio.

Morris, 68, said she thought some of the specialty food products would make nice prizes for her bridge group.

"We always get trinkets. I thought we could get something they could use for a change," said Morris, who was eying canned chow-chow, packages of gourmet coffee and jars of spaghetti sauce for her basket.

"I'm real impressed," she said. "I'd rather keep my money in the state, I guess."

The farmers' market is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

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