WOOD COUNTY, W.Va. — The first potatoes to be grown at West Virginia University at Parkersburg specifically for the Mister Bee Potato Chip Company, part of a new collaboration utilizing Mountain State produce, are due to be harvested within the month.
The partnership is the first major initiative from the new Center for Civic Engagement and Innovation created at WVU Parkersburg.
“It’s going to be an experiential learning project for our students in a variety of majors. It’s going to be one more example to this community of local entrepreneurship,” said Dr. Chris Gilmer, president of WVU Parkersburg.
Mister Bee, which is based in Parkersburg, will put the potatoes to use this fall.
“When I got here two years ago, I began to look around to see what things were working at their full capacity and what things were underutilized and immediately I noted that we had a farm and that farm was basically lying unused,” Gilmer said.
Later, he met Mary Anne Ketelsen, owner and president of Mister Bee Potato Chips, who was looking for local product.
An idea took hold.
It was Ketelsen who provided WVU Parkersburg a grant so the college could grow ten acres of specialty chipping potatoes for Mister Bee at WVUP’s Riverhawk Farm, a site with potential, Gilmer said, to host more and more expanded sustainable agriculture programs.
Plans call for future training for farm production workers to support agricultural businesses in the region and for the building of a coalition of local farmers who could further help meet Mister Bee’s needs.
In Gilmer’s view, “community” is the most important word in community college.
“We really are with and by and for the community that we serve,” Gilmer said. “The community that we serve needs high-paying jobs and it needs for its businesses to be fully supported by the primary university in this area.”
Earlier this month, Gilmer announced WVU Parkersburg would be moving classes largely online for the 2020 Fall Semester which begins on Aug. 17.
Gilmer said that decision would not affect the Mister Bee partnership.
“Everything is going to go on at WVU Parkersburg as planned. We may just have to do some things in a different way,” he told MetroNews.