A Haven For Green Thumbs

WHEELING – The idea of a farmers’ market in the middle of February may sound absurd to a lot of people, but a group of community gardeners preparing to build a greenhouse on a vacant lot in East Wheeling aren’t among them.

Once in place at the corner of 14th and Wood streets, according to organizer Danny Swan, the greenhouse will be able to grow a variety of food crops year-round.

An Amish man from Holmes County, Ohio, is fabricating the greenhouse and it should be ready for delivery to the site sometime in the coming weeks, he said.

The project also seeks to repurpose historical elements of the neighborhood, as the walkways under construction on the lot are composed of bricks from demolished East Wheeling homes.

For Swan, the project represents more than beautifying a vacant lot – it’s a chance to recapture a tradition that has become lost on a generation of youth that most often turns to smartphones and iPads for entertainment and to the frozen foods aisle for nourishment.

“For anybody, but especially for a kid, this notion of planting something and coming back a few months later and eating it … it’s a feeling that’s sort of fading from our collective consciousness,” Swan said. “It doesn’t have to. We can bring it back right in the middle of East Wheeling.”

East Wheeling Community Gardens Inc., a non-profit, volunteer group, acquired the lot about two years ago, and volunteers in recent weeks have begun decorating and lansdscaping the property in preparation for the new greenhouse.

It’s always been the group’s intent to grow food there – but it was the insight of East Wheeling resident and engineer Mike Mitchell that helped them realize the site’s true potential.

The key is a south-facing stone retaining wall that will be at the rear of the greenhouse.

It’s perfectly positioned to trap sunlight during the winter, Swan said, meaning the group will be able to keep the greenhouse going year-round without the expense of generating heat artificially.

So after the summertime tomatoes, squash and peppers are harvested, gardeners will be able to plant lettuce, spinach, beets, carrots, radishes, onions, garlic and kale – crops that typically don’t require a great deal of light and therefore are well-suited to grow during the shorter days of winter.

Swan is looking forward to being able to walk into the greenhouse in the middle of a snowstorm and pick all the makings of a fresh salad.

And he’s hoping through his group’s efforts, that enthusiasm will catch on in the surrounding community.

“Our focus has always been on getting healthy food to people, and helping people grow their own healthy food,” he said.

Kate Marshall is heading up the artistic side of the effort, with plans for community art installations. In addition to using her own talents to brighten the lot, she hopes to get neighborhood youth involved through mosaic and sculpture.

“This project has real potential for the East Wheeling neighborhood. It reaches out in so many ways – through art, through food, through flowers and through the plain-old fun of working alongside one’s neighbors,” Marshall said.

Neighborhood residents, including Regina Martin, said they relish the opportunity to have a hand in making his neighborhood a better place.

“The project is by and for the people of East Wheeling,” she said. “We live, work and play here in this neighborhood, and we are committed to making it a better place.”

Swan urges anyone interested in getting involved – whether through labor, funding or providing landscaping plants – to call him at 304-288-7391 or contact him via email at eastwheelingcommunitygardents@ gmail.com.