West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner candidate Kent Leonhardt said the average American meal travels 1,500 miles from production to the dinner plate - something he hopes to change in the Mountain State if he's elected in November.
He also pledged to push back against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations on water quality that he said are hurting West Virginia farmers but are "not based on science and common sense."
Leonhardt, a Republican from western Monongalia County, will face Democrat Walt Helmick in November's general election for the right to replace longtime Commissioner Gus Douglass, who is retiring after 48 years in office, making him the longest serving agricultural commissioner in U.S. history.
Photo by Ian Hicks
West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner candidate Kent Leonhardt is pictured with his wife, Shirley.
The GOP put Leonhardt on the ballot after primary winner Mike Teets dropped out of the race, while Helmick defeated four other candidates in the Democrat primary to capture the nomination.
Part of an agricultural commissioner's role is to ensure food safety as well as encourage development of a state's agricultural resources. But as a working farmer himself - as is required by state law to be eligible for the post - Leonhardt believes it's more difficult than it should be to be a profitable farmer in the Mountain State today, and he also wants to find ways to make it easier for West Virginia farmers to sell their goods to West Virginians.
"We need to shorten the distance from producer to consumer, so West Virginians can have better access to healthy foods," he said.
He also called the EPA's regulation of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment making their way into the Chesapeake Bay an "onerous burden" on farmers in the bay's watershed, including those in the Eastern Panhandle, where Leonhardt said 25 percent of West Virginia's agricultural activity takes place. He added state officials can help develop better methods of detecting pollution sources and assisting where needed.
"There's no actual proof that the farmers are causing any of the problem," Leonhardt said, noting it makes little sense for them to contaminate resources that are essential to what they produce. "Farmers want clean water and air. It goes to their bottom line."
If elected, he said within a year of taking office he'd like to see a memorandum of understanding developed with West Virginia University for mutual use of personnel, facilities and programming.
He also plans to develop agricultural programs for veterans returning from the wars in the Middle East, noting such gardening programs elsewhere have proven therapeutic for soldiers stricken with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Leonhard holds a bachelor's degree in wildlife management and a master's in business management. After graduating from college, he entered the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served for 21 years until 1996, including intelligence operations in the Gulf War. He retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel.