SUTTON, W.Va. — A farm outside Morgantown specializing in certified naturally grown vegetables won the West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year award Tuesday during an awards luncheon in Sutton.
Mountain Harvest Farm on Goshen Road near Morgantown, which is owned by Chico Ramirez and Mary Oldham, won the award during the West Virginia Conservation Partnership Conference luncheon.
Mountain Harvest Farm was competing against the Finley Farm, owned by Cody and Jessica Finley, of Apple Grove in Mason County. Both farms have demonstrated a commitment to conservation practices that protect soil, land, water and related resources.
Each year, one West Virginia farm receives the Conservation Farm of the Year honor after winning at the county, district and area levels. Judges visited both farms in late August and graded the farmers on their use of best management practices, impact on ecological systems and community-based activities.
Mountain Harvest Farm represents the Monongahela Conservation District of Monongalia, Marion and Preston counties. The Finley Farm represents the Western Conservation District of Mason, Putnam and Jackson counties.
The Finleys raise cattle and goats on their farm in Apple Grove. Their children show animals in 4H and they’ve implemented agricultural best management practices that include lime, frost seeding, pasture division and exclusion fence, watering systems, and rotational grazing to improve their operation.
Ramirez and Oldham of Mountain Harvest Farm earned a $1,000 award for the win.
The couple also will receive 200 hours, or three months, use of a John Deere tractor from Middletown Tractor Sales in Fairmont, with an option to later purchase the tractor at a discounted rate. Brandon Thomas of Middletown Tractor Sales (MTS) also said each participant in the Conservation Farm of the Year program would be able to receive a 10 percent discount on MTS equipment.
Some of the conservation best management practices at Mountain Harvest Farm are crop rotation, cover crops, contour farming, no-till farming, buffer strips, pollinator planting, nutrient management practices and more.
Ramirez and Oldham grow tomatoes, carrots, greens, herbs, corn, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, cut flowers and other produce on the farm. In addition to growing produce in open fields on the farm, they utilize two high tunnels and four low tunnels to extend their growing season.
Mountain Harvest Farm follows organic growing standards and is currently Certified Naturally Grown (CNG), which is a grassroots alternative to USDA Certified Organic that Oldham said is more appropriate for small-scale local growers who have relationships with local customers.
Ramirez and Oldham also take part in a subscription vegetable farm share program often called a “CSA” or “Community Supported Agriculture.”
The couple supports their family through their operation, and they also employ three workers on work visas and two part-time employees to manage CSA deliveries.
They also provide produce to the Morgantown area through local farmers markets, Oldham said.
They’ve hosted tours of the farm for a variety of groups, including WVU students and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field staff, and annual tours for their customers. They also host students as young as preschool age at the farm. In 2019, they hosted the Nuffield International Farmers Scholars as part of their global tour to expand the recipients’ knowledge of agricultural best management practices.
This past spring, they also hosted an “Earth Day at the Farm” event with a conservation walk and pollinator planting.
The mission of the West Virginia Conservation Agency is to provide for and promote the protection and conservation of West Virginia’s soil, land, water and related resources for the health, safety and general welfare of the state’s citizens.