For centuries, Pocahontas County has been known for its farmland and generations of farmers tilling the same land and selling the fruits of their labor to the community.
While most farmers learn to farm at the side of their elders, first generation farmers are not exposed to the same tutelage. That is where programs like Farm-to-School come into play.
West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition foodshed coordinator Eryn Neyer gave a presentation to the Pocahontas County Board of Education March 15 on the Farm-to-School program, which has students learning first-hand how to grow their own food with the help of county farms and volunteers.
“The West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition was the recipient of the West Virginia Farm-to-School grant for nurturing Farm-to-School in West Virginia,” Neyer said. “This grant focuses on exposing youth to host Farm-to-School activities through marketing, youth entrepreneurship, creating growing spaces, aggregation of locally grown products, nutrition education and policy education. Those are the six components that this grant focuses on.”
With the board’s approval, the program began the very next day.
“We took Hillsboro Elementary School on a field trip to Frostmore Farm,” Neyer said. “That’s sort of how we kicked it off.”
At Frostmore Farm, owners Adam and Rachael Taylor, and Rachael’s parents, John and Alesia Wayne, gave kindergarten through fifth grade students a tour of the farm and explained the process of collecting sugar water to make maple syrup.
“Adam was boiling with the evaporator so they could actually see the sap being turned into syrup and they got samples of that coming off the evaporator,” Rachael said. “We gave them samples of all different types of syrups and cream, and they got a bag of cotton candy.”
The family was joined by Pocahontas County High School forestry students who had a sawed off maple tree on hand to give the students a chance to tap the tree for sugar water. The students also enjoyed fun activities related to syrup collection.
“We had a bucket race with water where we showed them how much maple water it takes to make a gallon of syrup,” Rachael said. “They lined up and it was kind of like a competition. They passed the sap buckets down the line to the end.”
Rachael said it was great to have the students visit the farm and the Taylors plan to continue offering special tours to the schools.
“One of our key things is maple education to promote learning about maple for all ages,” she said. “Every year we participate with the PCHS forestry. They tap trees and bring us sap. As far as the little ones, absolutely, we’d like to expand the maple in the classroom and field trip opportunities.”
Field trips to county farms are just one component of the Farm-to-School program. Students will also be growing their own produce and learning the process from seed to plant.
“I personally think a really big part of Farm-to-School in Pocahontas County is to build strong partnerships, so Ruby Grow is one of those partners for Hillsboro,” Neyer said. “With that partnership, they’re allowing the third through fifth grade to come down every Friday and they are providing them growing space, and doing agriculture education around what the kids are doing.”
Ruby Grow is a garden and high tunnel located near HES and is operated by High Rocks. The land for the garden is named for the late Ruby Burns.
Farm manager Casey Withers will help students with planting and nurturing their produce.
With HES set, Neyer said she is in the process of visiting other county schools to see how they want to implement the Farm-to-School program.
Each school has a greenhouse, high tunnel, garden or combination of the three. With those in place, Neyer said it’s just a matter of making the program fit the needs of each school.
“Pocahontas County Schools, in general, is already doing a really great job with sourcing from local farmers, so it’s just how can we enhance what’s already happening because there’s already a great system for agriculture in Pocahontas County,” she said. “The targeted areas of education for Farm-to-School in Pocahontas County are maple syrup production, high tunnel operation, gardening and raised bed production as well as the development of a fruit orchard.”
Neyer said she’s not making any promises, but depending on funding, there is a plan to develop a fruit orchard at Marlinton Middle School. She is also working with the Pocahontas County High School FFA to grow a pumpkin patch in the Marlinton community garden, with the students selling the pumpkins in the county in the fall.