Telescopes and Potatoes?

When County Commissioner David McLaughlin suggested that Allegheny Mountain Radio talk to Mike Holstine, the Business Manager at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory about their Potato Project, I failed to comprehend any connection between telescopes and potatoes. Curiosity prevailed, followed by the suggested interview with Mike.

Mike talks about the convoluted beginnings of this story.

“The Potato Project is kind of interesting” said Holstine. “It sort of came about – you know how your mind starts thinking one thing and you end up in a completely different area of thought. It sort of started when the Fas-Chek closed down in Marlinton, believe it or not, and I got to talking to a few people about possible uses for that building, and one of them being as an indoor farmers market sort of place but year round, if that were possible. One thing led to another and it became a train of thought around growing the agricultural base in Pocahontas County.”

Eventually the subject moved away from uses of the Fas-Chek building. Mike explains how the idea continued to expand into being about agricultural growth in the County.

“I met with Jacob Meck and Charlie Sheets a couple of months ago to discuss just that very thing and the amount of usable farmland that is here that maybe is not being used totally” said Holstine. “And that led us to being contacted by (West Virginia Agricultural) Commissioner Helmick.”

Mike tells what developed next.

“The Commissioner has a fairly strong vision for Pocahontas County in agro-economy and came up and had a meeting with us a couple of months ago and explained his view of where we might be able to go” Holstine said. “Looking at the history of Pocahontas County and the State of West Virginia generally, being at one time a huge agricultural economy (we) decided that it was probably a good thing to try and do something again in Pocahontas if we could do a pilot study and find out what kind of production you might be able to get from the farmland we have here. So that evolved over a couple of months until we actually decided that under their guidance through their program, the Observatory here would volunteer the land necessary to do this pilot study. The Commissioner and the Department of Agriculture would volunteer the equipment and the seed stock. And it finally evolved into a full pilot study Potato Project. So we’re going to offer up 20-25 acres of property that will eventually be distributed to 5 or 6 different growers that have approached the department of Ag over the last couple of months and shown an interest in doing this.”

So how much involvement will the Observatory have in the growing of potatoes? Mike explains.

“We will simply let them use the land at no cost” says Holstine. “They will have to provide their own labor and tractor and things like that. We’re going to try to run this for at least 2 to 3 years. And the Pilot study’ s purpose is to figure out the best planting methods, the best growing methods and the final production tallies for an acre of planted potato crop and see how that turns out.”

Mike talks about the Department of Agriculture’s possible marketing strategy for the produced potatoes.

“They are developing a marketing plan for various stages of potato production –new potatoes verses final crop potatoes and a lot of people might not realize that we do have a potato chip manufacturer in this state and I think they are talking to them and they’re talking to some of the major outlets about buying locally produced food stuffs. And the school system is one that could also utilize our locally grown crops.”

Mike says the project now is a small centrally located project, but in the big picture it is hoped that existing potato farmers and new ones will also ultimately get help from this project, and that another benefit of the project will be getting young people involved so they can learn from older, more experienced growers.




Story By

Tim Walker

Tim is the WVMR News Reporter. Tim is a native of Maryland who started coming to Pocahontas County in the 1970’s as a caver. He bought land on Droop Mountain off Jacox Road in 1976 and built a small house there in the early 80’s. While still working in Maryland, Tim spent much time at his place which is located on the Friars Hole Cave Preserve. Retiring in 2011 as a Lieutenant with the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland, Tim finally took the plunge and moved from Maryland to his real home on Droop Mountain. He began working as the Pocahontas County Reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio in January of 2015.

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