By Lee Chottiner
Grow Ohio Valley will reopen its East Wheeling farmer’s market on June 24, introducing a new lineup of growers for its customers. It will also have more horsepower.
No, that’s not a typo.
Instead of erecting tents and tables along Jacob Street, as it did last summer, the farmer’s market is going mobile. Grow OV has purchased a van.
“We can get more food to more people that way,” said Grow OV Executive Director Ken Peralta. “We can extend our outreach and get to more communities.”
The “Mobile Market,” as it's called, will stop on Wednesday mornings, from 8-10:30 a.m., at the Ryan Ferns Healthplex in Benwood; 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. on Jacob Street in East Wheeling; and 4-6:30 p.m. at St. Michael’s Parish School in Woodsdale. It will also make Sunday stops at Cabela’s and travel to Marshall and Brooke counties. Peralta is finishing work on the market’s schedule and Dateline: Wheeling will publish it as soon as it’s available.
Peralta said he found the van on Craig’s List earlier this spring. He made an offer and brought it to Wheeling.
“One of the neat things about being in Wheeling is it’s so close to so many people, half of the U.S. population is within a day’s drive,” he said. “That makes it convenient when you’re looking for things.”
So when he found a Snap-On tool van for sale in Monroeville, Ohio, he drove out to see it and, as it turns out, bought it.
“It wasn’t running, so we had to tow it back to Wheeling and get it operational,” he said. “It’s like a potato chip truck, a Chevy P-30. It was used for Snap-On tools. And now it’s going to be a grocery store.”
The van is currently parked in East Wheeling where Grow OV volunteers are busy revamping it for its new purpose. They added a custom-built cold storage unit on one side of the interior. On the other, they added shelves and cut a window in the side where the driver can ring up purchases.
They’re also doing what Peralta described as “a fair amount of mechanical work” on the engine, “[but] not a ton.”
Chuck Gantzer, the driver of the van who has done much of the refitting work, said the vehicle will have metal baskets loaded with produce hanging on the outside, so shoppers can still select their own fruits and vegetables. Among the selections their customers may choose from will be apples from Gantzer’s own 10-tree orchard in Marshall County. It’s the first time he’s sold his apples at a farmer’s market.
“They’re completely organic,” Gantzer said, “never had a drop of anything sprayed on them.”
He’ll also sell his own homegrown zucchini and squash.
Gantzer won’t be the only first-time grower at this year’s farmer’s market. Peralta said Grow OV is adding another farmer from Marshall County and one from Ohio County. They will join a Brooke County farmer and an Amish co-op in Ohio that are already supplying produce.
In addition, Grow OV is “pushing production” at its Farm 18, a one-acre garden on state-owned property beneath the Route 2 Bypass, according to Peralta.
“We are increasing the amount of output out there,” he said. “We’re planting more densely; we’re putting in more rows; we’re putting in hay bails where we plant cucumbers, and we’re trying more things to get more food out of that little spot down there.”
While most produce sold at the Mobile Market will be organic, some bulk items may not be, according to Peralta, but the nonorganic food will always be clearly marked. All the produce will be locally sourced, sold in bulk or organically grown.
“We’re trying to hit two of those three [criteria],” he said.
In other news:
• There is still time to sign up to receive a weekly food basket, also known as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) from Grow OV.
For 15 weeks this summer, subscribers will receive a basket of locally grown, all-organic fruits and vegetables from the same growers supplying the mobile market. This is the first year all the produce in the baskets will be completely organic, Peralta said.
Grow OV has the capacity for 70 subscribers. Twenty-five spaces are still available at a cost of $400 each.
A CSA subscription may be purchased by calling 304-233-GROW (4769).
• Grow OV is studying conditions at its East Wheeling locations for a new cistern. A supporter has offered to donate a tank.
The cistern could be used to collect runoff from Vineyard Hill. At peak periods this spring, Grow OV has measured the runoff at 15 gallons per minute.
But first Grow OV must determine the quality of that water for farm use. It has been testing the runoff and will continue to do so into next year before proceeding with the project.
“We’re still testing the quality of that water to determine its suitability for watering farm crops,” Peralta said. “We want the Health Department to be aware and everyone to be in the loop on that.”
It has not yet been determined where a cistern could be best used, he added. “We don’t know where we’ll put it yet, but we know it will be super useful.”
Grow OV wins award
Grow Ohio Valley has been recognized for its good works in the valley.
At a just-concluded conference this past weekend at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, sponsored by Try This West Virginia, Grow OV received the Outstanding Program Award for its work in community-supported agriculture, which is transforming the Wheeling area.
Try This West Virginia is a grassroots effort to spotlight and share, through its website, trythiswv.com, innovative efforts around the state to make Wild Wonderful a healthier, more livable place.
“The goal of the group is to share experiences and information,” said Ken Peralta, executive director of Grow OV, who accepted the award, “so if someone in Parkersburg wants to do something, and someone in Wheeling is already doing it, they can look [at the website] and see someone in Wheeling is already doing this. It’s really a resource for sharing information … and it helps us to not reinvent the wheel all the time.”
He said the award would give Grow OV “higher visibility” around the state while “giving credit to the people who were behind the good work that has happened here, even predating Grow Ohio Valley.”