By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
Avery Hodges-McGuffin is going into the fifth grade at Lewisburg Elementary. After winning an essay contest with the Department of Agriculture, she was selected to serve as Agriculture Commissioner for the day at the State Fair of West Virginia. It wasn’t something her parents saw coming until recently.
“We moved here from Huntington just before the pandemic,” her mom, Eden, tells RealWV. “Avery came from being a city girl to learning all about farming here. She started her own garden and began composting, and she goes to the farmer’s market most every week.”
Avery says she looks forward to the market every week. Not only because she enjoys finding fresh produce and locally-farmed groceries, but mostly because she loves the people.
“I’ve made friends with the farmers,” she says.
Mary Surbaugh, Manager of the Courthouse Farmer’s Market, noticed Avery’s growing interest in farming. She suggested that Avery enter the Department of Agriculture’s annual essay contest. This year the topic was: What will agriculture look like in the next 50 years?
“I asked all my farmer friends at the market what they thought agriculture would look like in the future,” Avery recalls. “They said it would probably be more automated with robots, but they hoped there would be more small, family farms.”
Avery put pen to paper and entered the essay, relying on the advice of her new farming friends. She won, submitting a clear and clever essay which is printed below.
As a result of her win, Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt invited Avery to join him at the State Fair of WV on Monday as “Agriculture Commissioner for the Day.”
Avery spent the entire day on the fairgrounds, more than ten hours total. “I got to meet a lot of people at the country market and the West Virginia building,” Avery says. “I got to go to the State Fair board meeting. I got to see all of the animals. I got to see a new baby calf. I got to see all the awards for the animals. It was an exciting day!”
Her favorite part? “Going to the board meeting. It was really interesting.”
Kelly Collins, CEO of the State Fair, said the board was pleased to welcome Avery. “Not only is it a great opportunity for her, but it’s encouraging to see our future leaders at work!”
Avery isn’t sure exactly how agriculture will be part of her future. She’s also passionate about art–sculpting and painting. But agriculture will now always be part of her life as her future unfolds.
“All the farmers have really taken Avery under their wing,” Eden reflects.
“I want to thank Mary and my parents for making this possible,” Avery adds.
(See below for Avery’s winning essay.)
The Future of Agriculture In West Virginia
By Avery Hodges-McGuffin
On several different Saturday mornings in April and May of 2023 I asked approximately 15 farming vendors at my local farmer’s market in Lewisburg, West Virginia, “What do you think is the future of agriculture in West Virginia?” A summary of their responses is below.
I found that most of their responses regarding the future involved the use of automated farming equipment such as automatic planters, harvesters, milkers, and much more. Automated means using robots who are programmed to do one specific job such as planting, harvesting, watering, milking, and mashing. This may mean that some farmers may no longer have a job.
However, just like humans, robots can make mistakes and or malfunction. Thus, while the robots may seem to save time and money, if they break frequently or do not work properly it may not be worth it in the long run. Also, who is going to fix the equipment if it breaks? Farmers may have to wait several days to get someone to come and fix it.
Some responses were a mix of hope and reality, such as that they hoped there would be more small family farms and more people growing their own food, although they seemed to think that that was more hope than reality.
Over the past few years I have created a special bond with the farmers, more like a special connection, so I feel like I am writing this essay more for them than for me. They are the locals that work very hard to bring this great healthy food to my local farmer’s market. It matters to me that I know where my food comes from and that it is fresh.
So I don’t think they will ever change their way of work but the real question is will West Virginia?
Above, Avery Hodges-McGuffin shows WV Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt a scarf she made at Carnegie Kids College, which won first prize. Avery served as Agriculture Commissioner for the day after winning on essay contest on the future of agriculture.