Community members, local business owners and entrepreneurs gathered at the Pocahontas County Opera House last Thursday evening for the annual Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce dinner.
Each year, the Chamber presents one individual and one business with a Community Involvement Award in recognition of their work in promoting growth in Pocahontas County – whether it be through volunteerism or through business practice.
Chamber president Bill Jordan presented the individual award to Laura Young, director of the Pocahontas County Family Resource Network.
Jordan explained why Young was selected for the award.
“This person became the director of the Pocahontas County FRN in 2008,” he said. “Since that time, this person has helped to generate additional grant funds for the county with a grand total of almost three million dollars. In 2017, Laura Young and the Pocahontas County FRN received the West Virginia Non-Profit of the Year Award.”
As Young accepted the award, she joked that she was pleasantly surprised.
“I had no idea it was coming, and I thought I knew everything that was going on in this town,” she said, laughing. “In 2017, we did win the West Virginia Non-Profit of the Year Award and it was such an honor to go to Charleston to accept that award. To be honest with you, it felt like an out-of-body experience, like they were talking about someone else. I was in a room with people who didn’t know me and I didn’t know.
“Tonight, it just feels really real to be in this room with the people that have made this possible,” she continued. “Family Resource Network is just a really good set of people from the local community who care about children and families, and I’m so proud to be part of this community.”
Chamber vice president Ben Wilfong presented the business award to Pendleton Community Bank.
Wilfong listed the many organizations PCB has contributed to, including: WVU Extension Service, 4-H and FFA Livestock Show and Sale, 4-H and FFA Ham, Bacon and Egg Show and Sale, boy scouts, girl scouts and local sports teams.
Several employees are also members of the Marlinton Rotary Club, Marlinton Lions Club and Fire Board.
“They make every effort to be a part of and contribute to every community in which they service – whether through financial contributions, volunteerism or other means – they go above and beyond to ensure the communities surrounding them are supported,” Wilfong said. “They have excellent customer service which you would expect from a community organization, as well as financial products and services that equal or surpass the big banks.”
Accepting the award for PCB were Kendall Beverage and Selina King.
“I want to say what a great honor it is to receive this award,” Beverage said. “Pendleton Community Bank strives to put back and contribute to anything in the community we can and to receive this award is recognition that our efforts are being seen, and we really appreciate that. We want to thank the Chamber of Commerce as well as all the other business owners and entrepreneurs because it’s all of you that make Pocahontas County what it is.”
After the awards, guest speaker Parween Mascari, Executive Director of the West Virginia Farmers Market, shared new and exciting information on the progress in agriculture and agritourism in the state.
“I want to talk to you tonight about some things that are really exciting for West Virginia – at least I think so – and I hope you do, too,” she said. “A couple of those being what is happening with our farmers markets, with our agriculture industry, with our support of local economies and local foods, and with agritourism. Those are things that I think are particularly important to folks in more rural parts of the state.
“Our mission at the Farmers Market Association is to strengthen the capacity of West Virginia’s farmers markets,” she continued. “We want to positively impact the communities they serve and provide education, advocacy and access to healthy, locally grown foods.”
Mascari spoke about the potential for growth in agritourism – a new side of tourism focused on providing the farm experience to visitors.
“They say we live in an experience economy,” she said. “People want that extra thing, and we think that local foods really gives them that. Farms are starting to invite people to do more than just farming.”
While nationwide the number of farms and farmers have diminished, Mascari said those farms still intact are finding ways to expand by participating in agritourism and allowing visitors to experience the farm life.
“So what are farms doing to try to keep up in this ever changing environment?” she asked. “They are inviting folks to tour their vineyard, enjoy the hayrides, enjoy a haunted house, get married on the farm, buy your produce, eat your ice cream, do all of that. Agritourism can include any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public in for recreation, for entertainment, historical or cultural [events], harvest your own activities, natural activities and attractions.”
In the ever changing tourism industry, visitors have come to expect more of their vacations. They want a destination and to experience the history and heart of the area they visit. With agritourism, visitors are given the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the identity of the community and the farm.
“These interactions drive a local identity construction,” Mascari said. “It’s the authenticity of that visitor experience. It’s what you have to offer that makes you authentic and Pocahontas County, especially, in the state of West Virginia, has so many of those types of things. It’s something that you just really have to reflect on and think about and know what makes you unique that other people would find fascinating.”
Mascari commended the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau for tapping into agritourism and creating new destinations for visitors to discover.
Along with an increase in revenue from the visits included in agritourism, Mascari said the farmers markets give back much more to the local economy than shopping at big businesses for produce.
“For every one hundred dollars spent at a farmers market, sixty-two dollars stays in the local economy, and believe it or not, ninety-nine dollars stays in the state, so those are some pretty incredible numbers,” she said. “Even if you say, ‘okay, I don’t own a farm, how does this really apply to me?’ Every time you support your local farmer, more of that money stays in your local economy and it really has a multiplier effect. Think about if we all just did that. Think about what kind of impact we would have.”
In closing, Mascari gave some food for thought, stating that everyone should be more mindful of where their food is coming from and to support local farms and gardeners as much as possible.
“Think about eating healthier,” she said. “Think about eating fresher. Think about the access to the local foods that you all have. Think of going to [the farmers market]. That really is a great way to get out there and meet your community and really do things for your life, and really enjoy that camaraderie.
“We’ve been working with the Department of Agriculture on building that West Virginia brand,” she continued. “The tagline is ‘better food makes a better day,’ and that’s what we believe. That it such an important part of your life, why would you not want to really enjoy it and support your local economy at the same time? It really provides a sense of community and we find that people are willing to pay a little bit more for the local foods, because believe it or not, you do get what you pay for. Really there is a benefit to everyone just supporting everyone and having that pride in West Virginia that I know we all have, especially in this beautiful region of the state.”
Musical entertainment was provided by Hazel Riley, Silas Riley, Willa Hardy and Sarah Riley.
The event was catered by Blue Roof Caterers and sponsored by Pendleton Community Bank and Dominion.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org