Potomac State College proposes food hub for Fort Ashby park

Fort Ashby Business and Technology Park
This file photo shows the Fort Ashby Business and Technology Park and shell building.  The Mineral County Development Authority voted Tuesday to sell several lots to Potomac State College for a possible food hub run by students.  Photo by Steve Bittner/Times-News

Reprinted with permission by the Cumberland Times-News’ website as reported by Elaine Blaisdell. 

KEYSER, W.Va. — Potomac State College of West Virginia University is proposing a food hub for the Fort Ashby Business and Technology Park.

The Mineral County Development Authority voted unanimously Tuesday to accept an offer by the college to purchase eight lots in the park. 

"Our idea ... is to create with our Associates of Sustainable Ag program and our Bachelors of Applied Science and Associates of Applied Science in Sustainable Ag will house some projects at the Deremer farm and the industrial park that will hopefully lead to a big conglomerate or a co-op," said Darin Matlick, PSC veterinarian and agriculture clinical associate professor. "Kind of like what we call a food hub."

"I'm here and Dr. (Gregory) Ochoa (dean of academic affairs) is here because we are in support of this project — I'm actually really excited about it," Jennifer Orlikoff, interim president at the college, said. "It's a unique sort of signature program that Potomac State can offer and it will help the region and the state."

"Our hope is ... to involve the community. Maybe an economic boost if we can provide some marketing and some larger marketing outlets by the use of the hub," Matlick said. 

A shell building that is located at the park could be utilized as a central food hub for mostly produce and high tunnels could be placed around it, Matlick said.

"Students could have a high tunnel or part of a high tunnel to produce a product that would go into a marketing stream through that building and that hub," Matlick said. "Also local farmers in Mineral County and surrounding counties could capitalize on that marketing stream that we would produce through that building." 

Also, college officials said student housing may eventually be built there. 

"I think it is very well thought out and there is a need for that in this area," said Butch Arementrout, mayor of Carpendale and member of the authority.  

 Authority member David Webb voiced concerns about the fact that the new venture would only create a director's job.

"The students would be a lot of the labor because that is going to be their project," Matlick said. "Not only are we going to teach the students how to grow the plants, they are going to have develop a business plan and market that product." 

The food hub would attract other business, according to Buck Eagle, authority president.

"Historically, industrial parks were created to allow business to come in that employ people in that area. We are seeing that value added further down the road," Eagle said. "With this food hub you become the anchor store of the mall. Once you get in there you get the co-ops and others coming in."

"I think the biggest thing is colleges all across the country graduate students all the time that don't know how to run a business," Matlick said. "They graduate with a trade but they aren't sure how to run a business." 

Labor will be needed to start the high tunnels, Matlick said. 

"What Potomac State is doing is wonderful. What this program is doing is giving them (local students) the tools to make money on their own," said Kevin Clark, executive director of the authority. "The economic benefit will come from when they graduate. It won't be a net loss of tax revenue because we aren't paying taxes out there."