WV SBDC helps veterans bring agritourism business to Mountain State

Wonder Valley Farm preparing to sell local lavender, forest botanicals and honey.

Wonder Valley Farm

Wonder Valley Farm

You can hear the excitement in Sierra Cox’s voice when she talks about Wonder Valley Farm. The agritourism startup, located in Gandeeville, Roane County, is co-owned by Cox and her partner John Pennacchio, both Navy veterans who moved across the country to start a 100-acre lavender, bee and forest botanicals farm right here in the Mountain State.

Cox and Pennacchio came to West Virginia in December 2016. Since then, they’ve received grant money to expand the business and will soon bring their products to market. While Wonder Valley Farm has a promising future, starting the business in a new state required some creative thinking and strategic planning.

Wonder Valley Farm

Owning a small business is a team effort and every team needs a coach

“When I left the Navy, I knew I wanted my own business but wasn’t sure what it would look like or how I should start,” Cox said. “We knew we wanted to grow lavender, but we still had a lot of dots to connect.”

Living in Washington State at the time, Cox and Pennacchio began looking for a place where their dream for a farm could become a reality.

“My research led me to the West Virginia Small Business Development Center,” Cox said. “I was absolutely blown away by the number of resources available to new business owners, so we reached out and have been working with our business coach, Marsa Myers, ever since.”

Myers and the WV SBDC helped Cox and Pennacchio develop a business plan and continues to guide and help the farming duo as they transition out of the startup phase.

“We brainstorm ideas together and Marsa comes up with avenues I hadn’t thought of,” Cox said. “She introduced me to people who helped get our business up and running and provides a wealth of knowledge.”

That careful guidance has helped Wonder Valley Farm get off to a good start.

“The WV SBDC is such a wonderful resource that has helped tremendously in getting Wonder Valley Farm up and running,” she said.

Wonder Valley Farm

A bright future for Wonder Valley Farm

Cox and Pennacchio planted 800 lavender plants last year and brought in 20 beehives. Cox said they will plant another 800 plants this year, add an additional 25 beehives and begin harvesting ramps, mushrooms and other forest plants.

“We’re still probably one year out, but we hope to start selling lavender bouquets and sachets this year,” Cox said. “And we should have enough honey to start selling this year.”

Also on the docket for the farm in 2019 is the addition of several sailboat-style cabins, made possible by a $5,000 Launchpad grant the duo received last year. Launchpad is sponsored by the Regional Council, the Ross Foundation, Results Radio, Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley, the Ritchie County Chamber of Commerce, Huntington Bank, NOE Office Equipment, Ritchie County Economic Development Authority, West Virginia Social Media Consultants and Camden Clark Medical Center.

Even though Cox and Pennacchio are more comfortable in their new home state and roles as small business owners, they still rely on their business coach for guidance.

“I’m a huge advocate for the SBDC,” Cox said. “Working with them has helped us be the best that we can be. It’s a free resource, so I definitely encourage people to contact them when they’re starting out or thinking about starting a business. Their help has been invaluable.”

The West Virginia Small Business Development Center supports small businesses through one-on-one coaching, training and facilitating connections to resources. Learn more about how a business coach can help your business by visiting wvsbdc.com.

Wonder Valley Farm

Wonder Valley Farm