Agri-tourism is not a new concept to Jennifer "Tootie" Jones. A fifth generation farmer, she raises grass fed beef on Swift Level Farm in Lewisburg. She was one of the farmers who attended yesterday’s event at the Capitol Market. She sells beef to 14 West Virginia restaurants and several retail stores, some of which are featured on a new online map, called Bon Appétit Appalachia, a project by the Appalachian Regional Commission. There’s also a print map, which lists 283 food destinations across the region, including:
- Capitol Market, Charleston
- The Wild Ramp, Huntington
- South Side Depot, Parkersburg
- The Custard Stand, Webster Springs
- Swift Level, Lewisburg
- Thistledew Farm Proctor
- The East End Bazaar, Charleston
The map was distributed to tourism agencies and ran in a magazine called Food Traveler. The premier of this map was celebrated at an event yesterday at the Capitol Market in Charleston.
Jones’ Swift Level Farm is featured as a destination on the Bon Appétit map. "We love people of all ages coming to the farm, and we have activities for children. They can feed the chickens and collect eggs and feed the pigs and run free in the grass, and not worry about anything except having fun,” says Jones.
The movement to promote regional food could help give farmers like Jones a boost by helping them establish their farms as tourist destinations.
Yesterday’s event also celebrated the work of farmers and chefs who have been behind the local food movement in West Virginia for some time.
“My name’s Dale Hawkins. I’m one of the owners of Fish Hawk Acres in Rock Cave. We believe local food is important for the economy of West Virginia because it’s going to keep the money as opposed to sending it out of state.” Fish Hawk Acres is also featured on the Bon Appétit Appalachia Map.
At the event Hawkins displayed local breads, homemade ramp mustard, and one of West Virginia’s most iconic local foods—Pickens Maple Syrup.
According to Mandala Research, nearly 80 percent of all leisure travelers list dining and other culinary activities as a top priority. As local food movements across the country begin to take root and the term foodie has emerged in urban areas, Appalachian festivals, farms, and farm to table restaurants could benefit by promoting the region as a tourist destination.
The Appalachian food map features businesses and events from 13 states, with events like a Green Bean Festival in Georgia, a Pawpaw Festival in Ohio, and a Liver Mush Festival in North Carolina.
Although the Mountain State is known for its many festivals, only the East End Bazaar in Charleston is listed as an event for West Virginia on the printed map. Other events, like the West Virginia State Fair, are included on the online version, which has about 300 more destinations than the printed map.
Governor Earl Ray Tomlin joined ARC federal co-chair Earl Gohl and state Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick and officials from the West Virginia Division of Tourism to announce the maps.