Department of Argiculture responds to COVID food shortages

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – The Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce hosted a tele-town hall to discuss the status of food supply in West Virginia during COVID-19.

Before COVID swept into the US, many people around the country took food supply for granted. Several months into the pandemic, a lot of light is being shed regarding how fragile the balance of food supply can be.

“30% of the food that we ate is coming through restaurants and other businesses,” said West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt. “Only 70% was going through the super-market and being consumed at home. But when all of those other businesses shut down, the packaging for food through a restaurant or an eating establishment, packages individually for an individual or a family at a grocery store.”

In particular, there has been a strain put on meat processing in West Virginia. The space allotted to local farmers who were growing food that would be processed for local consumption shrunk considerably. While demand has outweighed supply for meat processing, the Department of Agriculture within the state is working to balance out the ratio.

“We have a new food processing facility going up in Belle, WV south of Charleston,” Leonhardt said. “They’re a little bit behind schedule. It is coming online, hopefully next year. We’ve got all of the permits, uh I think are just about handled. And we’re going to be expanding in-state processing of meats.”

The Department of Agriculture has been promoting locally grown processing for a long time. Through work with popular grocers, Kroger in particular, the “West Virginia grown” label has been re-instituted to emphasize locally grown processing. As a result of this progress, the business development end of the Department is coming more into focus.

Agriculture is a business, and we have to treat it like a business,” Leonhardt said. “You know, we’re the only business in the world that buys all of our inputs at retail, and sells the product at wholesale. So that’s a challenge, and we’re meeting that challenge.

“I’m very proud of the farmers in West Virginia.”