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HUNTINGTON — West Virginia’s burgeoning craft beverage industry is getting a boost from a new Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) initiative to expand the use of specialty crops in state-made drinks.

“The number of craft beverage producers in West Virginia has nearly tripled since 2014,” said Bill Woodrum, director of entrepreneurship and agricultural programs at RCBI. “We want to help residents capitalize on this momentum and connect them to local sources for their ingredients.”

RCBI is teaming with Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College in Moorefield, and Unlimited Future and the Wild Ramp in Huntington, on the statewide effort to expand cultivation of specialty crops for the craft beverage market, connect growers to bottlers who need specialty crops and promote the use of locally grown fruits, vegetables, berries and herbs to produce craft beverages.

Woodrum says the collaboration will include a series of networking events, seminars focusing on specialty crop production and their utilization in craft beverages and spirits, as well as an extensive marketing campaign to promote the growing of specialty crops and their use in beverage production.

“Our goal is help at least 200 state farmers boost sales of the crops they already grow or expand by growing new specialty crops while encouraging bottlers to create additional product lines,” Woodrum said. “We believe these efforts will result in meaningful sales increases for both farmers and craft beverage producers.”

In 2017, the craft brewing industry had an economic impact in West Virginia of more than $309 million, according to the Brewers Association, a national trade group.

Woodrum added the funding for the project is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which is administered by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

RCBI also announced the upcoming “Craft: Farm to Bottle Summit” will be a virtual event.

Brewers, farmers, retailers and those in the tourism industry have been invited to participate in a virtual summit from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday to share updates about the craft beverage industry across West Virginia.

“Craft: A Farm to Bottle Summit” will feature Charles Bockway, craft beverage aficionado and publisher of www.BrilliantStream.com, discussing how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the industry and related projects. Participants also will hear about legislative priorities and learn about West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition efforts to connect farmers and bottlers.

The event will conclude with a virtual Pour it Forward reception from 7-8 p.m., Woodrum said.

“Participants are encouraged to grab a glass of their favorite West Virginia beverage and join in a social hour,” he said.

Register for the free event at www.rcbi.org/go/craft2020. For more information, contact Woodrum at bwoodrum@rcbi.org or call 304-781-1670.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD or email him at fpace@hdmediallc.com.

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