A new program to help veterans start agriculture-based businesses has generated a lot of interest in other parts of the state, and the program’s founder is coming to Pocahontas County to provide information and seek out interested vets.
James McCormick is the director of the West Virginia Department of Agriculture Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture (VWA) program. A decorated combat vet, McCormick started the program last year with the support of Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick.
McCormick will give a talk and answer questions on the VWA program on July 30 at 6 p.m. at the Municipal Building in Marlinton. All interested veterans and farmers interested in hiring vets or supporting the program are invited to attend.
The primary purpose of the VWA program is small business generation.
“We want agri-business owners,” said McCormick. “We’re looking to develop businesses in West Virginia.”
McCormick noted that West Virginia residents spend $7.5 billion on food every year, whereas West Virginia food production amounts to just $500 million annually. He said the VWA program will help to increase local production and reduce the amount of money going out of state to buy food.
Goals of the VWA program include: identifying veterans who want to become involved in farming; marketing veteran farm products; building a veteran-farmer products brand; seeking property that can be used for veteran farmer projects; coordinating VA-certified agriculture education programs; and creating an environment for long-term growth of veteran-owned and operated agribusinesses.
McCormick said the program also seeks to coordinate cooperative equipment and land use arrangements for veterans in specific areas, such as tractor sharing.
VWA has helped several veterans get started in beekeeping and honey production. A grant is available to help qualified veterans obtain low-cost beekeeping supplies.
“One of the biggest things we’ve had success with is beekeeping,” said McCormick. “I was swamped with people wanting to go into beekeeping. It started with six and after two months, after people started hearing about it, I was up to 40 veterans all across the state.”
McCormick was wounded three times during three tours in Iraq and earned two Bronze Star medals. In recognition of his work with veterans, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society presented McCormick with the Citizens Service Award in 2012, an honor reserved for just three persons every year.