WV Agriculture Commissioner Visits High School

Student reps from the FFA talk about the new high tunnel greenhouse
Student reps from the FFA talk about the new high tunnel greenhouse

Tucker County High School recently had an important visitor from the state.  West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick paid a visit to see the agricultural program first hand.  Helmick spent the better part of a school day hearing about the program and talking with instructors, administrators, and students alike.

The program is attracting attention all over the state with its unique  co-operative efforts between different instructors, programs, and students, along with its heavy student involvement.
Vice Principal J.R. Helmick said:  “Most everything you see done out there (greenhouse and lab house) was done by student labor”.
Admittedly the program still has a long way to go to meet its full potential.  Ultimately the goal is to become a viable food producing and processing program along with other production products such as annual flowers and red cedar trees.

West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick shed a lot of light on the current state of Agriculture in West Virginia.  Commissioner Helmick shared that over seven billion dollars of food is consumed in West Virginia every year while less than one billion is actually produced here.  Of the one billion produced here fifty-three percent is poultry.
“That leaves about six billion dollars on the table up for grabs if we just grew our own,” said W. Helmick.
One of the largest consumers of food goods in the state is the West Virginia School System buying in excess of one hundred million dollars a year.  W. Helmick said that in discussions with the State School Superintendant they said they’d have no trouble buying food produced in West Virginia if two main criteria were met:  1. If it were equal in quality, 2. If it were equal in cost.
W. Helmick said the state will be doing asset audits for each county to see what resources (lands suitable for crop production) each county has and will work with the WV Extension Agency to see what crops are adaptable for each individual  county.

Instructor Hauser talks about TCHS greenhouses
Instructor Hauser talks about TCHS greenhouses

“We need to know what grows in West Virginia.  We’d like to increase the number of employment opportunities in agricultural fields”, said Commissioner Helmick.
W. Helmick went on to say, “We don’t have to export anything, it can all be consumed here.  We don’t have to compete on a world market just increase our production from a half a billion to the seven billion consumed.”
Vice Principal J.R. Helmick noted, “Starting it here, changing the mindset of the students regarding agricultural professions.”
Commissioner Helmick cited 1932 as a turning point in West Virginia when we went from an agricultural state to an industrial one.
“We do very well economically with the  export of our coal.  We used to have chemical and steel industries too,  now they’re mostly gone,  but agriculture will never go.  It may not be easy, but we can do it.  We have the natural resources, we have the land”, said W. Helmick.

Tucker High School Students proudly showed off their new high tunnel greenhouse where in its inaugural year they plan on trying to grow some cold weather tolerant crops this year during the winter without heating the greenhouse.  Instructor Hauser quipped that the kids wanted to market them as extreme veggies!

Commissioner Helmick fields questions from students
Commissioner Helmick fields questions from students

The other greenhouse currently provides some fresh lettuce to the school’s salad bar but it takes approximately twenty five pounds of lettuce to stock it for one day and that has presented a challenge production wise.  The instructors are all encouraging the kids to start thinking big and the kids are taking up the challenge.  Last year they produced and got 10,000 plants into the community and this year it grew to 40,000 (annuals, vegetables, etc.).
Becky Leigh, Coordinator for the office of child nutrition for the West Virginia Department of Education was in attendance and said:  “We’ve got workers up here.  They’re positive and always have a let’s try it attitude.”
J.R. Helmick said; “That’s one of the neat things about this county, we have so many people who want to help out when they find out what we’re doing.”

Tucker County students are leading the way for the next generation of agriculture production in West Virginia, not so bad for a school of only about three hundred students.