A Shared Agenda for Growing West Virginia's Agricultural Economy
West Virginia University
The Agriculture Advisory Board was formed by West Virginia University along with West Virginia University Extension, West Virginia Department of Agriculture, and the Governor’s Office to create a state-wide plan for growing West Virginia’s agricultural economy.
As West Virginia was looking for opportunities to diversify their energy-dependent economy, the state’s sights turned to their small but mighty agriculture economy. Although leaders in the production of apples and poultry, their agriculture economy is among the smallest and least diversified in the nation. The Agriculture Advisory Board hired Fourth Economy Consulting to develop a five-year strategic plan that they could use as a roadmap for collective action around shared priorities designed to grow and diversify West Virginia’s agricultural economy.
Our team began with a deep dive into the data to better understand the strengths and challenges facing West Virginia’s agricultural economy. Parallel to this, we developed and distributed a survey that garnered over 500 responses from stakeholders across the state. The combination of quantitative and qualitative data helped us identify key areas around which strategies could be developed to diversify and grow the economy.
In order to develop those strategies, we organized 14 community meetings across the state. Because time and budget did not allow us to facilitate all of these meetings, we held two half-day facilitation trainings for staff of the various ag-serving agencies and institutions. 350 stakeholders turned out to participate in “Build Sessions,” in which they brainstormed, prioritized, and refined strategies around the previously-identified key challenges and opportunities.
Our team then worked closely with the organizations that would be responsible for leading and supporting those strategies, helping them to further develop detailed actions and next steps.
The final report we produced, A Shared Agenda for Growing West Virginia’s Agricultural Economy, includes a portfolio of strategies to: connect producers to market opportunities; create the infrastructure needed to grow the agricultural economy; develop the next generation of agricultural industry leaders; and enhance access to land. In adopting the final strategy, the Agriculture Advisory Board noted that the process had sparked a new level of collaboration among stakeholders. The Board is currently working to establish an ongoing governance structure to ensure implementation of the strategies.