Create Buckhannon has been named the winner of the 2021 West Virginia Vanguard Agriculture Competition, a statewide contest sponsored by the Robert C. Byrd Institute at Marshall University that honors innovation and ingenuity in agriculture.
The annual award recognizes a West Virginia entrepreneur or organization whose idea has the greatest potential to solve logistical challenges in the local food supply chain, according to Mike Friel, Director of Communication for the institute.
"Katie Loudin wrote the application on behalf of Create Buckhannon, which captured the top prize for its technology-based solution to match the supply of locally grown produce to consumer demand for fresh fruits and vegetables," Friel said.
The Buckhannon-Upshur Farmers Market struggles to balance supply and demand because consumers do not know what food will be available each week, and participating farmers do not know how many customers to expect, he said.
In addition, the covid pandemic has increased consumer expectations for curbside pickup, and many people no longer carry cash.
"Loudin said she hopes Create Buckhannon’s innovative approach will begin to fix some of these challenges," Friel said.
Loudin and other Create Buckhannon members will contact area farmers each week to determine the types and quantities of food they will have available. That information then will be posted to a digital store where consumers can browse what is available and submit orders online.
Friel said Loudin's idea was inspired by the Turnrow Appalachian Farm Collective’s pop-up farmers markets, which were launched in 2020 as a response to supply chain problems in the southern region of the state.
To develop its idea, Create Buckhannon will receive a business assistance package from the institute valued in excess of $5,000 that includes product design and development, prototyping, marketing, and business development planning.
The Vanguard contest is part of RCBI’s Agricultural Innovations, an initiative to improve opportunities for West Virginia’s farming and agricultural economy. The initiative supports and enhances a vibrant local foods system by promoting entrepreneurship and innovation.
The institute also helps food producers, distributors and buyers expand their reach and influence through advanced manufacturing practices and product development.
The Agricultural Innovations initiative is funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and supported by a coalition of statewide partners.