CHARLESTON, W. Va. - A new project taking root in the Kanawha Valley is aiming to help small farmers and veterans in West Virginia grow and then market carrots to restaurants and other local consumers.

The goal of the West Virginia National Guard's Patriot Guardens and Capitol Conservation District's "Farm Roots" project is to help those participating to first grow their own carrots and then market the popular product to restaurant owners, farmers' markets and other local buyers.

The first educational workshop for the Farm Roots project was held April 13 at the Tackett House at WVNG Joint Forces Headquarters, which introduced 10 veterans, active military and community members to the program. Throughout the program, participants will learn lessons on growing carrots, designing and constructing long-lasting raised beds and low tunnels, how to achieve and maintain healthy soils, disease and pest control, post-harvest handling, good agricultural practices and presentation and marketing.

In West Virginia, locally grown carrots are in high demand with consumers and many restaurants. When small farmers bring carrots to the farmers' market, they sell out quickly.

Each grower will keep careful notes in journals about yields, crop failures, successes, growth, costs, soil amendments and pest issues.

"Working with the Patriot Guardens Program has allowed me to find a small way to give back to our service members, active and retired, through agriculture," said Melissa Stewart, director of Patriot Guardens Education and deputy director of Economic Development. "Sharing my knowledge of agricultural production is one way that I hope to help our participants find some peace of mind through working with their hands toward developing a more self-sufficient lifestyle."

Organizers hope to create a program to improve and increase production of carrots for specialty markets in the state by carefully reviewing the feedback from participants in their journals.

Growing carrots is no easy task in the hard, compact West Virginia soil. By using raised beds and better soils, qualified growers in this program will have a goal of increasing the market of carrot varieties and sales in West Virginia.

Some local restaurants and chefs have signed on to buy and distribute some of the carrots grown through this joint endeavor.