Kent Leonhardt is the Commissioner of the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. He was elected in November of 2016 and took office in January of 2017. Leonhardt is also a farmer operating a 380-acre farm near Fairview in Monongalia County, West Virginia.
He raises sheep, cattle, goats and hay. He formerly served in the West Virginia State Senate for the second district. He is retired from the United States Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel, holds a degree in wildlife management from the University of Missouri and an MBA from Central Michigan University.
Leonhardt was a guest on The Positively West Virginia Podcast. He talked with podcast host, Jim Matuga, about what he is doing to change the way West Virginians look at agriculture.
What is the thing you are most excited about for West Virginia agriculture – right now?
“The local food economy is my most passionate thing right now. We are doing a lot of value-added products; also, the maple syrup industry is growing along with the honey industry,” said Leonhardt.
Tell us about the increase in hemp farming in West Virginia.
“In 2014, it was legalized for research and development under an education program or departments of agriculture. We had twenty-eight growers in my first year in office, and it quadrupled. We had four hundred fifty-six applicants growing and processing in the state in 2019.
We did not get any funding from the legislature until last year to start helping with the management of that program. This was because unlike corn and soybeans, hemp is a federally regulated crop that has to meet certain criteria,” said Leonhardt.
What programs are you running to get young people involved?
“We are putting on a small farms conference with West Virginia University, which will start later this week at the Winter Blues Farmers Market in Charleston where people can buy West Virginia grown products. We are trying to make sure there is a market; if they can make a living out of it, then the people will come.
Another way we are getting young people involved is that we have the veteran population coming back and separating from the service, but they are not sure what they want to do. We are trying to introduce them to agriculture to see if that is something that they would be interested in,” said Leonhardt.
Leonhardt was a guest on the Positively West Virginia Podcast. Listen to his full podcast here.
PWV QUICK BITS | WEST VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
- RECOMMENDED AUTHOR: Joel Salatin
- PIECE OF ADVICE: “Start small until you find out it is something you enjoy,” advised Leonhart.
- OTHER ADVICE: “Encourage your local school boards to get more involved in the farm to school program,” said Leonhart.