Apples grown in the Vineyard Hills Orchards could make their way into lunchrooms in Ohio County schools if Danny Swan and Ken Peralta can make their dream come true.
Swan and Peralta are the head of operations and executive director, respectively, of Grow Ohio Valley, an initiative that takes forgotten urban plots of land and brownfields and converts them into productive gardens.
For the past five years, they have developed Farm 18, a one-acre organic garden located at the intersection of 18th and Wood streets beneath the W.Va. 2 viaduct in East Wheeling.
Photos by Heather Ziegler
The Rev. Darryl Cummings, left, discusses community gardens with Danny Swan during Tuesday’s Wheeling Rotary Club meeting.
Grow Ohio Valley representatives Ken Peralta, left, and Danny Swan, address the Wheeling Rotary Club on Tuesday about their latest garden and vineyard projects.
Last year, the garden produced about 10,000 pounds of organic produce that was either sold or donated in the neighborhood.
The garden also has brought together residents with the desire to learn how to grow vegetable and herbs, Swan said.
Additionally, GrowOV provides farm stands in the East Wheeling neighborhood where residents can purchase fresh foods within walking distance of their homes.
They hope to provide a Double Value Coupon Program, via sponsorships, that would allow customers using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to double their buying power at the food stands.
In addition to GrowOV, the men are responsible for the East Wheeling Community Gardens, which have served as a model for others in the area looking to develop community gardens. GrowOV has a Garden Micro-Grant program that provides seed money to neighborhoods, churches and community groups.
To date, there are more than 20 active gardens in the Wheeling area as a result of this program.
The men are passionate about their plans to bring an orchard - complete with apple trees, berries and nut trees - to a 5-acre plot of land on the east side of Vineyard Hills overlooking Wheeling Hill.
The property is owned by the Wheeling Housing Authority, which has given the project its blessing. Zoning issues may be in question, but Peralta said the proposal is a win-win for the community. GrowOV has obtained a $25,000 Specialty Crop Block Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture through the West Virginia Department of Agriculture to develop the orchards project.
To date, the organization has secured $168,00 in funding for its various projects.
Peralta, speaking to the Wheeling Rotary Club on Tuesday at WesBanco Arena, said their proposal was ranked No. 1 among 18 projects statewide. GrowOV received the maximum amount under the grant program.
He said the group plans to do fundraising and rely on additional grants and donations to move the project to fruition.
One initiative is an Adopt-A Tree program where individuals, organizations, civic clubs and others can sponsor trees for the orchard.
The orchards also would serve as an educational outlet for youths in the neighborhood and from throughout the region as they learn about the growing process.
Eventually, GrowOV would seek to include a processor to produce apple cider and other products. Peralta said there has been discussion with Ohio County school officials about purchasing the locally-grown fruit.
A two-story building located on Grandview Street has been donated to GrowOV with the hope of transforming it into a retail store to sell the local food.
GrowOV touts itself as "a social enterprise with a mission to strengthen Upper Ohio Valley communities, families and residents by growing food and fostering sustainable living."
"Local food represents a big economic opportunity for Wheeling.
Years ago, 90 percent of the country's apples came from this region," Peralta said.
"The land hasn't been decimated by factory farming ... this is fertile land. There are more than 100 indigenous herbs growing here."
Peralta said studies suggest the immediate region of Wheeling and portions of East Ohio could produce 10 percent - or $35 million - of the $350 million worth of food consumed here yearly.
Another GrowOV project on the drawing board is the Lincoln Meadow Organic and Training Center.
This entails transforming the former Lincoln Homes property at Vineyard Hills into the Wheeling Botanical Gardens for visitors to experience and learn about agriculture, horticulture and agro-forestry in a living "food park."
For more information about Grow Ohio Valley, contact Peralta at 646-209-8559 or email at Ken@GrowOV.org.