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February 2017

West Virginia

Assistant Secretary of Defense Todd A. Weiler, Deputy Under Secretary, USDA Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service Lanon Baccam, and Assistant Chief, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kirk Hanlin, visited Patriot Guardens in Welch, WV, during a recent visit to West Virginia. This visit highlighted a unique partnership between West Virginia National Guard, West Virginia Department of Agriculture, West Virginia State University, and West Virginia AgrAbility.

During the tour, Weiler said he was excited about the opportunity "to witness firsthand the cooperation between the West Virginia National Guard and the Department of Agriculture in helping our service members transition to rewarding jobs and continue to serve our nation." He continued to say "Partnerships like this should serve as a model across the county."

Patriot Guardens, a pilot project combining agriculture, job training, economic development, and substance abuse treatment, is aimed at helping West Virginians - particularly veterans and guardsmen - build agriculture businesses. Organizers want to expand Patriot Guardens and build enough capacity to become a community based, self-sustaining program through revenue streams from the sale of food, educational workshops, and event hosting.

Patriot Guardens Golden Delicious Apple Project began as a way to enhance and diversify West Virginia's economic development and recovery, maximize agriculture profitability, maintain the states rural heritage while attracting other related facilities to the area, and put displaced coal miners and veterans to work. The project involves planting 100,000 apple trees on 500 acres in Nicholas and Clay counties (Clay County is where the golden delicious apple was first discovered.) This project received approximately $5.3 million in AML (Abandoned Mine Land) Pilot Project funding. Project partners include the West Virginia National Guard, Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Special Reclamation and Office of Abandoned Mine Lands and Reclamation, West Virginia State University Extension Services, West Virginia AgrAbility, United States Department of Agriculture, West Virginia Department of Agriculture, ERP Compliant Fuels, and Paradee Natural Resources.

West Virginia AgrAbility staff and representatives of the West Virginia National Guard attended the Mid Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Hershey, PA. The focus for the Patriot Guarden Team was gleaning information to assist with implementing the Patriot Guarden Golden Delicious Apple Project.

A joint meeting of the Patriot Guardens Team was also held at the War College in Carlisle, PA, on January 30th.

Patriot Guardens partnerships have expanded to include the Beckley VA Hospital. West Virginia State University and West Virginia AgrAbility will be working to develop workshops and high tunnel production utilizing Workforce Development funds to employ homeless veterans. Upcoming trainings would include hydroponics, post-harvest handling, small fruit overview, brambles and tree fruit, blueberries, strawberries, and AgrAbility.

Submitted by Inetta Fluharty