Gardens are nothing new to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who still smiles when he recalls his childhood in southern West Virginia—even hours he spent pulling weeds.

“When I was growing up my parents and grandparents taught me how to work in a garden. That was just passed down without question,” he said.

His gardening roots are so deep they accompanied him to Charleston where a special vegetable garden—on the grounds of the governor’s mansion—is his pride and joy.

That’s because the raised bed is shaped like the state, and various crops are planted in the same areas they would grow locally.

The Governor of West Virginia keeps a garden in the shape of West Virginia.

WVU Extension Service (Click for bigger)

WVU Extension Service (Click for bigger)

Sounding like a proud parent, Tomblin eagerly located an aerial photo on his cell phone showing the special garden when we caught up with him at the State Fair of West Virginia.

“See, over here in the Eastern Panhandle we have some fruit trees, while in other areas we plant things like lettuce, onions and tomatoes,” he said.

“We use what we grow in the mansion, and when there is stuff left over we take it to the shelters to share with others.”

Being an elected official provides the perfect platform for reminding others about the importance of agriculture to the state economy and residents.

“The good news is that more and more people are interested in locally grown food. They like knowing where their food comes from,” he said.

“I really think that in the last eight to 10 years people have really changed their thinking about food. They are no longer satisfied with just getting whatever is available in the grocery store. West Virginia food is local food and people want to buy it.”

Tomblin’s love of gardening was on display at the State Fair.

As part of Thursday’s Governor’s Day at the state fair, Tomblin took part in a ceremony aimed at honoring West Virginia families who have carried on this time-honored agriculture tradition.

It was the perfect place to admire homegrown produce, since Tomblin was surrounded by colorful mounds of tomatoes, peppers and even some early pumpkins.

Just some of the many vegetables and fruits on display at the State Fair

Just some of the many vegetables and fruits on display at the State Fair

At that time he presented the Farming Heritage Award to the Johnston family of Lewisburg.

“They really are special and yet also represent the many families who have been farming for generations,” he said.

“This family has been farming for eight generations so it really is my honor to help honor them. They get a beautiful plaque with their name on it to go on their farm, so that’s another way we hope to encourage our proud agricultural tradition.”

Protecting West Virginia’s farmlands

Tomblin said he is a strong proponent of county farmland protection programs, especially in areas where development is replacing farmland.

“It’s good for the state to have developments like we are seeing in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, but it is also sad to see the family farms disappearing,” he said.

“But this is a way to have the best of both world by preserving farmland while also honoring the local farmers who are feeding our state.”

Another ardent gardener, Julie Green, also got a little nostalgic when talking about the heirloom beans she grows at her Fayette County home.

“Our pink-tipped beans were handed down from my husband’s family, and are so old that you can’t even get the seeds anymore, anywhere. So they are really special to us,” she said.

Fair visitors Dixie Moyers and Sharon Moyers still live on the Gilmer County farm where they grew up, and have no plans to leave it.

Both got a kick out of the potato art on display – everything from a real Mr. Potato Head to one fashioned into a car.

Gilmer County residents (and sisters!) Dixie and Sharon Moyers

Gilmer County residents (and sisters!) Dixie and Sharon Moyers

“I’ve done some potato prints but that’s about the end of my creativity with vegetables,” Sharon said with a laugh.

Her sister was quick to agree, adding, “Mostly we just eat ours.”

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More: How the West Virginia State Fair Became a Tradition For So Many Families