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W.Va. farmers look at new ways to stay competitive

September 12, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

LEETOWN, W.VA. - So that food imported from China has got you nervous?

Would you like to turn to more naturally grown foods for your family?

You don't have to go any farther than Jefferson County.

Farmers and other entrepreneurs in the county are finding new ways to profit from agriculture by diversifying their operations.

They are growing vegetables and selling them at local farm markets, producing their own lines of food, like salsa, and opening their farms for tourist attractions like corn mazes.

The new way of thinking about agriculture was in the spotlight Tuesday when Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, hosted a lunch at his farm along Darke Lane near Leetown. The lunch was offered as part of a string of legislative interim meetings being held this week in the Eastern Panhandle.

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Dozens of lawmakers, state and county agriculture officials, and others went to Tabb's farm to learn how the agriculture business is evolving in the county.

The crowd feasted on a roasted pig offered by Big Daddy's Barbecue and learned about operations on Tabb's farm by taking a hayride.

The meal was served under a tent where Angie Jimenez had a stand set up selling her homemade salsa.

Jimenez offers seven types of salsa and gets her tomatoes from Bill Grantham of Tudor Hall Farm Market in Middleway, W.Va.

Jimenez grows her own peppers and cilantro, and she sells her salsa at farmers markets in a Bank of Charles Town parking lot along Congress Street in downtown Charles Town and in a BB&T bank parking lot on U.S. 340 north of Charles Town.

"It's doing great. I have new customers every time. They like the idea that we don't have preservatives," Jimenez said.

Del. Bill Proudfoot, D-Randolph, said he was eager to see how agriculture was progressing in Jefferson County and was impressed by Tabb's ideas, which included growing evergreen trees, which are used for Christmas trees or landscaping. Tabb also offers shrubs and a corn maze for kids, Proudfoot said.

"We farmers have to look at nontraditional ways," said Proudfoot, who is involved in beef farming in his county. "I'm interested in preserving family farms in West Virginia and we're losing too many of them."

Gus R. Douglass, commissioner of the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, feasted with the crowd and presented a $5,000 check to Kellie Boles, Jefferson County's agriculture development officer.

The money can be used to help farmers set up Web sites to sell their products and for other advertising efforts, Douglass said.

Douglass said diversification of farming is spreading in other parts of the state and is illustrated by growing numbers of "pick-your-own" farms.

Douglass praised the efforts of local farmers when he took the podium to speak.

"This is really a showcase. This is a farm of the future as we see it," Douglass said.

Glenn Miller said his Big Daddy's Barbecue business has been a hit with private parties in the area. He pulls his giant grill to party sites and roasts a variety of meats.

"If you can kill it, Big Daddy can grill it," said Miller, of Charles Town.

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