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Cookout at Governor's Mansion centers on beef

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A barbecue at the Governor's Mansion was aimed at beefing up West Virginia's beef industry.

The annual event was held in the courtyard on Tuesday afternoon.

Members of the state's Beef Industry Council presented Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick with cuts of beef for Father's Day.

Also on hand was West Virginia Beef Queen Jennifer Friend, a 17-year-old from Braxton County who is active in 4-H and Future Farmers of America.

Beef was cooked on site, and the governor said he could hardly wait to taste the brisket provided by Flying W Farms of Burlington.

"I always look forward to the annual Father's Day beef feed to bring attention to the farmers in West Virginia and the role they play in our economy," Tomblin said. "Let's support West Virginia farms and farm families throughout the state."

Helmick said the annual event is significant because it draws attention to local farms.   

"It's a way to promote the beef industry, which is always under the gun in West Virginia," he said. "Over the last 50 years, we've decreased in the number of beef cows from 700,000 to 360,000. One reason is people could make money by leaving the traditional farm and going into the industrial world."

But he sees hope for future growth.

He said farming is wholesome, hard work that can be profitable as consumers look for healthful ways of eating. He pointed to grass-fed cattle and a product not enhanced with chemicals.

"People are looking for a wholesome product we can raise in West Virginia," he said.

West Virginia's nearly 11,000 beef cattle farmers produced 195,000 head worth more than $140 million in 2011, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Beef is the cornerstone of the state's economy, and I'm committed to finding ways to keep West Virginia cattle and West Virginia dollars in the state," Helmick said.

"West Virginians consume more than $7 billion in food every year, yet we produce less than half a billion. We'll never produce everything we consume, but I believe we can double the value of what we produce in this state."

Larry Echols, a Monroe County beef cattle farmer, said, "It's good to promote the beef industry and support local foods. Promoting beef helps us grow our economy."

Bill Shiflet, president of the Monroe County Cattlemen's Association, said West Virginia is rich in pasture land and grass-fed beef is becoming more popular.

According to information supplied by the state Department of Agriculture, beef has eight times more vitamin B12, six times more zinc, and two and half times more iron than a boneless chicken breast.

Helmick said it's important to promote the importance of farming and West Virginia products in secondary schools and colleges.

Beef Queen Jennifer Friend is doing her part.

She recently presented a speech at a cattlemen's convention in Morgantown and will continue to promote the state's beef industry at other events such as the West Virginia State Fair.

She will be a high school senior in the fall and then has plans to go to West Virginia University to study the science of animal nutrition. Her goal is to become a veterinarian.

For more information on the beef industry and West Virginia agricultural products go to www.wvagriculture.org, www.flyingwfarmsllc.com or www.wvbeef.org.

Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at charlotte@dailymail.com or 304-348-1246.

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