As spring begins to blossom in Appalachia, it means more opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy hobbies like gardening. Here in Wheeling, Grow Ohio Valley, a local nonprofit organization whose mission is to build a thriving community through local food, is providing a variety of programs that are helping to improve food access and share information to help folks cultivate their own green thumb.
Grow Ohio Valley is planting seeds for better health through innovative opportunities for the community, including a community-supported agriculture program, the Edible Mountain Project, and Grow Appalachia.
Community Supported Agriculture
For those who don’t have the time, space or desire to plant their own backyard gardens, Grow Ohio Valleys Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is a great option. CSA is a 15-week subscription program of fresh produce from local and regional farmers.
Sarah Stec, the lead for the CSA program shares that “CSA really supports local farmers. Every small vegetable farm is fueled by CSA programs and farmers markets. Imagine when people commit to picking up produce for 15 weeks, it is a great way to sell produce in a consistent manner to benefit farmers.”
Each week, participants pick up a box full of fresh produce from local farms. Grow Ohio Valley supplies a few recipes each week for customers to utilize each item in their box. “You have a collection of fresh vegetables and you get this box of super fresh and high-quality produce that you can take it home and make creative recipes with it. Customers know that they are supporting local farmers in a big way, and many have shared their excitement to sign up again” says Stec.
The first CSA pickup will be on June 30, with weekly pickups through October 6. CSA members pick up their shares at the Public Market in downtown Wheeling.
This year, Grow Ohio Valley is also offering discounted rates to Public Market members, payment plan options, and educational opportunities such as CSA volunteer days. The CSA volunteer days are opportunities to learn how your food is grown first-hand by spending a Saturday morning volunteering at one of their many farms sites from 8am-12pm on the second Saturday of July, August, and September. Additionally, customers who are Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants may also sign up with a discounted rate.
For more information on how to sign up, payment plans, and volunteer days, you can contact Sarah at 304-233-4769 or email email@example.com. You can also sign up online by visiting growov.org.
The Edible Mountain Project
The Edible Mountain Project is a collaborative effort among several local organizations that seek to improve the physical and mental health of Wheeling’s youth by 2025. To do this, a suite of programs focusing on food-based nutrition intervention with medical oversight, physical fitness, creative/cooperative play, sense of belonging, unstructured exploration, and artistic expression will be provided to children in Wheeling’s urban core. “ The home base for Edible Mountain is Vineyard Hill, but we’re working to address youth health across all of our urban neighborhoods,” according to Grow Ohio Valley Executive Director Danny Swan.
Grow Ohio Valley, in partnership with organizations that include the Wheeling Parks and Recreation Department, HoH Share, The Fun-Raiser, Never Bored Board, Operation YURT, Wheeling Health Right, WVU Extension Service, Laughlin Memorial Chapel, and Youth Services Systems, have come together to create a coalition to carry out the program.
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Through this program, the coalition seeks to improve physical health and resiliency by reducing risk factors for type 2 diabetes, substance abuse, and obesity in children. Rosemary Ketchum, Chief of Operations for the Edible Mountain Project describes this project as “the most exciting project I have ever been a part of. Wheeling is well primed to lead the state in the health and wellness of our youth and Edible Mountain is looking to make that a reality. Through strategic coalition-building strategies, enhanced community engagement, and local program coordination we hope to dramatically improve the physical and psychological wellness of Wheeling’s youth urban core by 2025.”
For residents who want to learn more about home gardening, Grow Appalachia is a year-long garden training program for families in the Ohio Valley region. The training requires no prior experience and participating families receive all supplies and instructions that they would require.
Similar to The Edible Mountain Project, Grow Appalachia is a collaborative effort between Grow Ohio Valley, WV Family Resources Networks, WVU Extension, and Try This WV.
Families residing in Marshall, Ohio, Brooke, and Hancock counties are eligible to apply for the program. Families receive seeds/starter plants, hand tools, fertilizer and mulch, and access to a tiller in the spring, and ample training and coaching to successfully complete the growing season. Participants are also invited to attend a series of six outdoor gardening classes for the training.
While the application for 2021-2022 was due in February, you can still reach out to Grow Ohio Valley to see how to get involved this year or next! Additionally, you can become a partner of this project, which involves helping with program recruitment, sharing your skills, or donating resources. If you are interested in Grow Appalachia, you can contact Hannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Danny Swan notes the importance of and success of their programs, particularly since the pandemic, “we’ve seen a huge increase in interest in local foods in general. The pandemic really woke people up to the superior quality (both nutrition and taste) of local foods. Perhaps more interestingly, I think the food shortages in the early days of the pandemic forced many people to seek food from local farmers. As such, many customers got a taste of the great feeling that comes when supporting your neighbors livelihood.” Grow Ohio Valley and other organizations in the area are working hard to provide numerous and diverse experiences for people in the Ohio Valley community to get outside, learn about food, and an equitable opportunity for health.
• Ayron Walker, MS, is a foodie, an outdoor enthusiast, a travel bug and an animal lover that grew up in Henry, VA. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Appalachian State University in 2017, continuing to Virginia Tech to complete her graduate work in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise with a concentration in Community and Behavioral Sciences in 2019. In August 2019, Ayron started a PhD program at West Virginia University in Animal and Nutrition Sciences. Ayron’s research and teaching interests include dissemination and implementation of knowledge-based programs, food systems, and eating disorders. Ayron’s long term career goal is to be a professor teaching a variety of courses in nutrition and foods. She is very passionate about local foods, dietary patterns and nutrition education, and equity. Ayron is very excited to be writing for Weelunk! Her hope is to contribute to the growing knowledge base surrounding local agriculture and its growing economy, and nutrition and agriculture education.