Local group seeking regional food security

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FOCUSING ON FOOD SECURITY — Danny Swan, co-founder of Grow Ohio Valley, discussed the efforts of his organization in working toward regional food security as part of the Brooke County Economic Development Authority’s annual summit, held Thursday at Bethany College. — Craig Howell

BETHANY — Regional food security is a goal which can spur the economy and improve the health of residents, according to Danny Swan, co-founder of Grow Ohio Valley.

It was part of the message Swan presented to Brooke County officials during the Brooke County Economic Development Authority’s annual summit, held Nov. 7 at Bethany College.

“We boil it down to: Can the people in the community get the food they need to have healthy lives?” Swan said.

The mission of Grow Ohio Valley began when Swan noticed children in his neighborhood walking to a local store and taking home sugary beverages, chips, meat snacks and other items, knowing that most likely was their dinner.

He decided to do something to help.

“We got started putting gardens in vacant lots in East Wheeling,” he explained.

Those community gardens led to participation in farmers markets, building a network within the local agriculture industry and growth of the program to include new gardens, orchards and greenhouses, educational opportunities for area youth and the creation of businesses.

Swan explained one of the gardens, located under a highway overpass brought in $25,000 in revenue in 2017, and another, near Wheeling’s downtown, brought in $48,000 the same year.

“You’re about 100 steps down from the federal courthouse,” Swan said, noting the proximity of the farm operations to the city.

These efforts have led to the creation of a mobile farmers market, with both full- and part-time employees, working with local farmers, including Family Roots Farm and Oak Hill Farm, to distribute produce, and creating programs for area schools.

More recently, Grow Ohio Valley opened a year-round consignment-model farmers market within the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Center in Wheeling, with plans to include a cafe and deli in the coming weeks.

That market, Swan said, brought in $13,000 in sales on its first day. In addition, 80 percent of the revenue goes back to the farmers where the produce was sourced.

He said similar operations can easily begin in other parts of the region.

EDA President Heather Stone said she feels local communities would be interested in learning more about Grow Ohio Valley, and the way its programs can help with business growth.

“A diversified economy is a vibrant economy,” Stone said.

In other business during the summit, Joan Simonetti, local VISTA coordinator, discussed recent volunteer efforts, as well as the EDA’s pitch contest held recently and a series of mentor workshops. The next workshop, titled “Diving into your business ideas,” is planned for Dec. 4.

EDA members also heard from state Sens. Ryan Weld, R-Wellsburg, and William Ihlenfeld, D-Wheeling, on potential legislative action in 2020 involving the elimination of the state’s business and inventory tax, education and transportation.