By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
A new online tool is providing a detailed look into West Virginia’s local food system.
The West Virginia Food Mapper, a statewide interactive mapping application, was officially finalized and launched in February through a partnership among several entities. Those partners include Downstream Strategies, the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition and its Meat Processing Working Group, and the West Virginia GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Technical Center.
The tool is available online at mapwv.gov/foodmapper.
Annie Stroud, staff food systems coordinator for Downstream Strategies, explained that the West Virginia Food Mapper is basically a type of online directory revolving around local food and agriculture. The goal was to create a large database with as much information as possible.
This kind of data wasn’t previously available in one spot, giving producers and consumers the challenge of going to many different places to find what they needed, Stroud said.
“From there, we tried to figure out what we felt was the best way to display this information, make it accessible,” she said.
The tool’s “Agriculture Map” tab allows people to look at information from the Census of Agriculture for West Virginia and see where various types of agriculture operations are happenings in the state. For example, an individual may view a color-coded map of all the cattle operations reported in West Virginia and which zip codes have the highest numbers, Stroud said.
The “Agriculture Map” tab also features crop acreage maps and prime farmland maps.
Another tab focuses specifically on “Meat Services,” which the Meat Processing Working Group led with support from the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition.
Stroud said it’s a huge challenge for local producers to find a slaughterhouse or meat processing facility that meets the processing level they need. The tool helps with this by listing the inspection status of processors and what animals they can process.
The West Virginia Food Mapper’s third tab is a “Business Search” that includes buyers, distributors, grocers, processors and producers in the state food system. All the state farmers markets are listed, as well as resources like local WVU Extension Service offices and nonprofit organizations.
“We meant it to be useful for a wide range of people,” Stroud said.
She said this tool is beneficial for consumers because of the information provided about the retail outlets and farms that exist. In addition, the “Agriculture Map” is nice for anyone interested in learning what agriculture is like in the state, people who are trying to support agriculture in terms of grant programming, and those who are looking for good spots to start agriculture operations in West Virginia.
Contact information for products and entities is available on the site. People may also submit updates or corrections to the information or add their business or resource if they’re not currently included, Stroud said.
“I think there is a lot of potential for this to be a great resource,” she said. “We’ve actually gotten a lot of really great feedback. It has a potential to really forge some connections between folks and the local food world.”
Garnet Bruell, an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, said the coalition organizes a number of working groups around various agriculture issues in the state. The Meat Processing Working Group invested a lot of time into making sure the West Virginia Food Mapper included the processing centers and various feed producers.
This tool provides viewers with a really good impression of the food system in West Virginia without having to decipher a bunch of statistics. Plus, people often like looking at maps, he said.
“Having a visual representation of your food system can be really valuable,” Bruell said.
When people talk about the food system, there seems to be a sense of mystery around it, and individuals sometimes only know about the activity of producers in their community, he said. The West Virginia Food Mapper provides more knowledge so the public can be informed.
“It’s an educational tool, but it’s also something you can use for your own personal benefit,” Bruell said.
He said these maps feature different layers and can be used for a variety of purposes by both business owners and consumers.
For instance, a person wanting to buy food at a co-op instead of a grocery store can see where those locations are found. Also, an individual looking for local honey can type in a location and find honey producers in the area. Another example is that a farmers market manager who would like to source more apples can search for that specific product locally, Bruell said.
“I would just hope that people are using the tool and find it useful,” he said.
Email Jessica Borders at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.