Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College has expanded its agricultural initiatives with the hiring of a Director of Agriculture Innovation and the recipience of a major grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Agriculture Workforce Training. This new Agricultural Innovation initiative joins the continued development of the Potomac Highlands Producers Co-operative, within Eastern’s Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (IREED).
Agriculture is an integral aspect of life in Eastern’s six-county region and continues to serve as a driving force in the local economy. To support further agricultural development, Eastern has hired John Riggs as the Director of Agriculture Innovation. “We are excited to have Riggs serve in this position to provide leadership and innovation to further support Eastern’s mission for academic, technical, workforce training and life-long learning for the Potomac Highlands Region,” said Megan Webb, Dean of Community Engagement and Partnerships. Riggs will lead and collaborate with partners to support innovative practices that are beneficial to the rural economy and develop and implement strategic goals in collaboration with partners and liaisons from local, state, and national organizations.
A native of St. Marys, Riggs received a B.S. in Agribusiness from West Virginia University in 2018. Riggs manages his home farm operation, Weeping Willow Cattle Company, and served as a superintendent within agri-development and surveying. Riggs will be located at Eastern’s IREED New Biz Launchpad in Moorefield.
The New Biz Launchpad serves as the site for Eastern’s new Agriculture Innovation Department and includes ag workforce training expansion, which will focus on agriculture-related workshops and hands-on training that fosters agriculture innovation for adults and youth of the Potomac Highlands Region. Riggs will spearhead the new lineup of trainings planned for 2021 and continue innovative youth agriculture programs such as the annual Ag Innovation Showcase and the statewide Ag Innovation Challenge, and support Eastern’s Agribusiness academic courses.
Riggs will work closely with producers and farmers and will be guided by an Ag Advisory Board. Also part of the New Biz Launchpad, Amanda West, Food Co-op Coordinator of the Potomac Highlands Producers, continues to work closely with agriculturalists in the region. West works to build the consumption and economy for local food by developing cooperative marketing and sales by raising awareness of consumers and the availability and benefits of buying local from producers.
Eastern was recently named the recipient of a five-year, $500,000 USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (USDA-AFRI) Ag Workforce Training Grant, a competitive grant with only ten recipients awarded from over 100 applications nationwide. This project seeks to counter the loss of skilled agribusiness labor and develop an ag workforce in the Potomac Highlands Region of eastern West Virginia through applied education, experiential learning, and direct mentorship from experts and ag business owners in the field. The Potomac Highlands region has one of the greatest concentrations of agricultural enterprises in the state of West Virginia.
“This kind of comprehensive and innovative agricultural training combined with long-term funding will be key in making an impact in one of the most important economic sectors in the Potomac Highlands Region,” said Eastern President, Dr. Charles Terrell.
The Ag Workforce Training project will provide opportunities ranging from one hour in-person and virtual webinars for knowledge improvement, to multiple short-courses that permit certification. It will also offer a Farm Fellowship, which combines classroom learning and hands-on work experience on a farm or ag business with an experienced farmer serving as a mentor.
Dr. Megan Webb, who also serves as Project Director, notes that Eastern will be partnering with the WVU Extension, state agencies, industry leaders, farmers, and nonprofits and that these training programs are slated to begin as early as May 2021. Participants will be provided a guided pathway for training that meets the local agricultural needs and builds entrepreneurship opportunities to foster stability, sustainability, and growth of ag enterprises, and ultimately, the economic success of agriculture in our rural region.
To learn more about upcoming Ag Innovation trainings and the Potomac Highlands Producers Co-operative, visit www.potomachighlandsproducers.com.
To learn more about Eastern’s Agricultural initiatives, visit www.easternwv.edu/agriculture.