How to start homesteading in West Virginia


Country roads, take us home! John Denver may not have actually called West Virginia his home, but famous tune has long captured the spirit and beauty of rural life in West Virginia. The West Virginia state seal even features a farmer with an ax, plow and cornstalk.

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Approximately 95 percent of West Virginia farms are family-owned, which is the highest rate in the country. Aside from the small farm-friendly environment, West Virginia is also a relatively affordable place to start farming or homesteading. especially if you are interested in raising livestock. 

If you are looking to start a farm or homestead in the mid-Atlantic but are trying to avoid high land costs, the Mountain State may be a good fit for you. Here’s how to start homesteading in West Virginia.

Buying farmland in West Virginia

According to 2019 data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average cost of farm real estate in West Virginia was $2,680 per acre, compared to the national average of $3,160 that same year. The average cost per acre for cropland was $3,280 and $2,120 for pasture.

According to the USDA’s 2018 State Agriculture Overview, West Virginia has 3.6 million acres of farmland and 23,400 farms. The average farm size is 154 acres.

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Working farms must register as a business with the state of West Virginia. A person must be at least 18 years of age to start a business in West Virginia, but the registration fee can be waived if you are a veteran or a West Virginia-resident young entrepreneur between the ages of 18 to 29.

The West Virginia Agricultural Enhancement Program administered by the West Virginia Conservation Districts and the West Virginia Conservation Agency to encourage the voluntary implementation of best management practices on West Virginia agricultural lands in order to conserve and improve land and water quality for all West Virginia residents. The program offers technical and financial assistance to implement such practices as well. 

Growing crops in West Virginia

The USDA hardiness zones in West Virginia range from 5a at the highest elevation in the east to 7a in the southwest around Charleston. The majority of the state falls in zones 6a and 6b, with average winter low temperatures of -10 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Hay, which is grown to feed the state’s livestock, is West Virginia’s main crop. Other major crops include apples (the state is the country’s 10th largest producer of apples), corn, soybeans and tobacco. Peaches and wheat are also grown in the state.

West Virginia is known for shallow, acidic clay soil, which is not ideal for growing crops. The soil at high elevations in the Eastern Allegheny and Cumberland Mountains in the eastern and southern parts of the state are especially rugged and low in fertility. 

However, the soil in river floodplains is more fertile, and limestone bedrock helps neutralize soil acidity. Some of the best agricultural soils in West Virginia are located along the Ohio River along the northwestern border. In 1997, West Virginia designated their state soil as Monongahela silt loam, a productive agricultural soil found on river terraces in on more than 100,000 acres in 45 counties in West Virginia.

Raising animals in West Virginia

West Virginia is a great place to raise livestock. About 82 percent of West Virginia’s total agricultural production is in livestock products. Broiler chickens are the state’s primary agricultural commodity, generating about 31 percent of West Virginia’s total agricultural receipts. Beef cattle and calves follow, with about 21 percent. Chicken eggs, dairy products, and turkeys are other major livestock products produced by the State of West Virginia.

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There are several weekly livestock auctions that take place throughout West Virginia, including the Jackson County Regional Livestock Market in Ripley on Mondays and Cattlemen’s Livestock Exchange in Caldwell on Fridays.

The West Virginia Livestock Care Standards Board sets forth standards for feeding, watering, exhibiting, handling, transporting and providing adequate ventilation, space, health care, and biosecurity for livestock, including beef cattle; bison and veal; dairy cattle; equine; small ruminants; swine; poultry and captive cervids. All complaints regarding the inhumane treatment of livestock are forwarded to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and the Livestock Care Standards Board from the sheriff, humane officer or county commission in the county in which the complaint originated.

Livestock owners are responsible for any damages sustained if livestock escape or are negligently permitted to run at large. Anyone who finds livestock running at large may impound the animal until such damages and costs of keeping have been paid. 

Selling food in West Virginia

There are 32 markets listed on the West Virginia Farmers Market Directory website.

In West Virginia, vendors are exempt from obtaining a farmers market vendor permit if they are delivering their products to a consignment farmers market — where the market takes farmers products and pays them for what sold, returning the rest to the farmer — or if they are selling fresh, uncut produce.

Once cut, many fruits and vegetables are considered potentially hazardous foods. Cut melons and tomatoes, for example, have to be held below 41 degrees Fahrenheit, so a vendor would have to receive a food establishment permit from the local health department before the date of sale. 

Sprouted seeds are not allowed for sale at farmers markets in West Virginia without a food safety plan and a valid food establishment permit. Wild harvested mushrooms are also not allowed for sale, but several mushroom species can be commercially grown from spores and may be offered for sale at the farmers market. Proof of identity of the species and proof that the mushroom is edible shall be displayed at the sales area.

Certain food products may be sold at farmers markets without a farmers’ market vendor permit, including non-potentially hazardous foods like breads, cakes, candies, honey and tree syrup; jams and jellies; dehydrated fruits and vegetables; and condiments. The production and sale of these homemade food items are also exempt from all food licensing, permitting, inspection, packaging, and labeling laws of the state. 

The homemade food items must be sold by the producer to the consumer, whether in person or remotely, or by an agent of the producer or a third-party vendor, such as a retail shop or grocery store. Homemade food items must also be delivered by the producer to the consumer; or by an agent of the producer, a third-party vendor or a third-party carrier. All online cottage food sales shall be delivered in person and are not permitted to be shipped.

The producer must provide the name of the food item; the ingredients; the statement: “Made in a WV kitchen that is exempt from state licensing and inspection. This product may contain allergens,” with the blank space to state whether the product was made in a home, farm, community, or commercial kitchen; as well as the name, home address and telephone number of the producer. This information must be displayed on a placard at the point of sale, vendor website if the food is offered for sale online or a label affixed to the package or container. 

A cottage food operation that has a private water supply must have the supply tested prior to permitting and annually thereafter. They also must demonstrate through a written record of testing for coliform bacteria and potability. The department may require more frequent testing, or additional testing, depending on the circumstances.

Persons engaged in the production of cottage foods for sale at farmers markets shall attend a health department cottage foods training, ServSafe Food Handler Course offered by the National Restaurant Association, a good manufacturing practices certificate program or a state food handlers’ licensing program. They must be able to provide documentation of successful completion of the curriculum.

A small producer may market up to one hundred fifty boxes or dozen eggs or less per week of their own production. The producer must register with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. Any vendor selling eggs shall have a valid food establishment permit from the local county health department.

Small producers must label their cartons with the name and address of the person producing and selling the eggs; the date the eggs are packed; and the words “Ungraded Eggs” in print of at least five-eighths inch.

All eggs should be washed, transported at 45 degrees Fahrenheit (unless the time for transportation is less than three hours), and stored and displayed in cold holding equipment at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or less. 

Small producers are permitted to pack in recycled or used cartons as long as the distributor’s name, address, expiration date, size and grade are marked out and replaced with the labeling required for small producers. Cartons shall be clean and free of odor or debris. 

West Virginia organizations for new farmers

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How difficult is it to start homesteading in West Virginia?

West Virginia has a rich legacy of rural life and a great environment for small farms. For farmers and homesteaders looking for affordable options in the mid-Atlantic, especially those looking to focus on livestock, starting a homestead in West Virginia is a sensible option.

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