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Local food vendors offer free food during Buy W.Va.

by Danny Forinash

STAFF WRITER

Hundreds came to Bridgeport High School Thursday night to get a taste of local food at the Buy West Virginia Initiative, a program of the State Department of Agriculture and Governor Cecil Underwood. Several state and local businesses came to offer their food for free tasting.

Russel D. Lopez, owner of Rosario's Gourmet Italian Sausage Mix based in Clarksburg, was surprised that his hot Italian sausage was getting as much positive response as the mild and medium flavors.

"This (show) is very helpful to the vendors because it gives us a chance to expose out products to a medium we don't get to reach," said Lopez, who got the recipe for his sausage mix from his mother. The mix, homemade in West Virginia and sold in local stores, is added to ground meat and water to make the sausage.

Governor Underwood was at the event after a long day of meetings and grant presentations. He said in an address to the crowd of tasters that he "hoped they would learn about these products."

"It is a marvelous discovery to see all these wonderful things made at home," said Underwood.

The governor said after his address that the Department of Agriculture has done an "outstanding job in connecting local businesses to the mass market." He hopes events like the initiative can help to stabilize the economic base and help promote the products to the whole state and beyond. Underwood said that other areas in the state have held similar initiatives and that a bigger state-wide initiative will be held in Charleston on September 11 and 12.

"We hope and dream the 15 to 20 percent of these businesses can go commercial," said Commissioner of Agriculture Gus R. Douglass. "Many chains are picking up these products and 300 local products are already in the market."

Douglass said that identification was the key to local product success and recognition can help "put money back into the pockets of local businesses."

"I hope to see small businesses and grass-roots industries grow into commercial enterprises," said Douglass. "I always felt we had much talent."

"Many people seem really surprised that we make all of this, even though we've been around for 75 years. " said Pam Harris, part owner of the Home Industry Bakery in Clarksburg. Harris said that the initiative is good way to get attention for the local foods.

Linda Xander of the Buckhannon-based Candies By Linda, said that she attended a similar event in Charleston and it "opened up the doors to several markets."

"It's wonderful for advertising and it's fun too," said Xander.

"I just came to give the product away," said Charlie Heard of Southern Gourmet Restaurant and Catering, producer of smoker barbecue in Morgantown. "If it gets us more customers, it's a blessing."

Governor Underwood and his cabinet was at Bridgeport High School again this morning for a town-meeting-style forum to listen to the concerns of area officials and citizens and announce more than $1.2 million in grants to be presented for nearly 40 projects.

Staff writer Danny Forinash can be reached at 626-1446.

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