Last updated: December 18. 2013 5:50PM - 1258 Views
By Beth Sergent bsergent@civitasmedia.com

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MASON COUNTY — Two of Mason County’s most historic pieces of farmland are going to be a model for a new statewide program to put veterans back to work.

The West Virginia Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Project will utilize both the Gen. John McCausland Farm on the southern end of the county and the Lakin Farm on the northern end of the county - both of which are currently owned and managed by the state.

This week Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick was in Mason County to accept a $5,510 grant from the Claflin Foundation for the project which will help set up the McCausland farm as a training site for veterans who wish to become involved in beekeeping for honey production, as well as growing berries which were once indigenous to the farm. On the Lakin Farm, massive amounts of sweet potatoes and cabbage will be grown and hopefully sold back to state agencies such as prisons, regional jails, schools, etc., to cut down on the amount of food West Virginia imports, Helmick said.

By growing and selling food locally, it keeps dollars circulating within the state. Helmick said West Virginia imports $6 billion worth of food a year and only exports $1 billion.

James McCormick is the Warrior and Veterans Project director and is from Mason County. He also met with Helmick and Stephen Littlepage, administrator of the Claflin Foundation, this week to discuss how the grant will be used.

McCormick said Mason County will be a training site and become the model for how the program progresses in the state. Basically, the project identifies veterans who want to become involved in farming; markets farm products of veterans already involved in agriculture; builds a brand for farmer-veteran products; seeks property that can be used for veteran farmer projects; cooperates with veterans administration certified agriculture education programs; works to develop rehabilitation sites and technical assistance resources; creates an environment for long-term growth of veteran-owned and operated agribusiness.

In addition to the two farms in Mason County, the state’s Huttonsville Farm in Randolph County will also be participating in the program.

“This program will do a significant amount of good in the veterans’ community and the community in general,” Helmick said, adding farming can provide vets a career with continuity.

The program should start to take off next year and in fact, ground will be broken at the Lakin Farm in the spring. There are already 12 veterans signed up for the bee keeping program.

Helmick said West Virginia sells about $1 million worth of honey a year and he feels this program could easily help double that figure.

The Robert and Louise Claflin Foundation is based in Mason County and funds programs which benefit local residents in a variety of ways. After only five years, the Claflin Foundation disbursed its largest amount totaling $105,603.71 in a calendar year.

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