WAYNE — The Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) at Marshall University has been awarded a $50,000 Rural Business Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grow the maple syrup industry in economically challenged areas of southern West Virginia.
RCBI will partner with syrup producer Toms Creek Family Farm of Wayne and the Williamson Health and Wellness Center to expand maple syrup production in Lincoln, Mingo and Wayne counties by helping 15 entrepreneurs in the region tap into the lucrative market.
Maple syrup production has been growing in the Mountain State. West Virginians produced 16,000 gallons of maple syrup in 2020, according to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. That’s an increase of 2,000 gallons from 2019.
“West Virginia produces only a fraction of the food consumed in our state,” said Bill Woodrum, RCBI director of Entrepreneurship. “Agribusinesses such as maple syrup production provide an opportunity to launch homegrown businesses but also keep production and food dollars in state. Our goal is not just to create new businesses but to provide the support to ensure these operations succeed.”
The Southern West Virginia Maple Technical Assistance Program will provide each new business with the equipment and training they need to launch and sustain their businesses. Each producer will receive tubing and taps for 20 to 30 maple trees, and a stove specifically designed and manufactured by RCBI to efficiently boil the sap.
In addition, participants will attend a Demo Day during which Greg Christian, co-owner of Toms Creek, will instruct participants on all aspects of syrup production, from tapping methods and tubing installation to sanitization practices, cooking processes, bottling and ideas for creating value-added products.
RCBI’s entrepreneur services team will help each syrup producer develop a comprehensive lean business plan focused on identifying customers, developing distribution channels and setting pricing. In addition, RCBI’s lean agricultural specialist will visit the selected producers to train them to manage their operations in the most efficient manner to reduce waste and maximize profits.
RCBI also will provide technical assistance to assist these farmers in moving agricultural innovations from concept to commercialization through its Early Stage Funding Opportunity initiative.
The program will culminate with a Southern West Virginia Maple Summit in Williamson, where the 15 new producers and other like-minded individuals can share best practices and connect with restaurants, grocers and craft beverage producers interested in purchasing maple syrup and value-added products.
Entrepreneurs in the region interested in participating in the maple syrup program should contact Evan Nelson, RCBI’s Lean Agricultural Systems Specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304.781.1657.