AmeriCorps Vista Volunteer Tom Myslinsky appeared before the Wetzel County Commission Tuesday to provide commissioners with an update on Grow Local, Go Local-the area's local food initiative.
Myslinsky said that the cause's first task was to install planters at the county's four senior centers. "That has proved to really have worked out really, really well. We are looking forward to planting again this year," he added. Myslinsky said that all is necessary this year is to provide the centers with additional dirt and plants.
"In conjunction with (the planters), we did have a seed swap in March," Myslinsky continued. What it is, is people bring in their planting seeds, and we provided about 400 packs of seeds. People come in and talk about planting, exchange ideas, and exchange seeds. It was very popular." Myslinsky said that the seed swap attracted about 150 people during its three-hour duration and some came as vendors from farmers' markets to share information about growing and preservation.
This spring display of tulips, plated by the Drug Free Clubs of America at Magnolia High?School, creates a beautiful complement to the Farmers’ Market sign at Bruce Park in New Martinsville.
Grow Local, Go Local's community gardens also appear to be a growing success. Myslinsky said that last year six families took advantage of the gardens. This year, 11 families are already signed up. "We are going to take one of the plots and make a joint effort from all the families," Myslinsky stated, adding that the produce grown from this garden would go to Helping Hand. "When we do that we are going to put an educational piece together to show people who receive fresh goods what they can really do with them," he noted.
Myslinsky said the New Martinsville EMS and Wetzel County Hospital have both been supportive of Grow Local, Go Local, whose community gardens are located in the same proximity of both facilities. He also added that those families who cannot afford the $10 or $5 fee for a community garden, can also have access to scholarships. "We are more than happy to let people come in that can't afford that. We are there to help them. That's what the program is all about," he said.
Myslinsky said he was overwhelmed by how much interaction has gone on between the families with community gardens. "Last August, there were many days that people were over at my house, in my kitchen, juicing tomatoes so that they could make sauce."
Grow Local, Go Local also plans to build raised bed areas at Valley Manor apartments in Pine Grove. Myslinsky said that as of right now, five will be built. "We feel that once they are built, more people will come forward." He added that Valley High School's FFA is providing their expertise to the cause.
Also new to the initiative is the Grow Local, Go Local Community Garden Association. Myslinsky said this group has their own by-laws, a charter, and are trying to raise money to make sure the project continues after Myslinsky's term as a Vista volunteer expires.
Additionally, Grow Local, Go Local sowed the seeds to success in another way last fall-the local farmers' market.
Myslinsky said the farmers' market was something the group had not even anticipated as occurring last fall. He added that the market began last year, in August, with six vendors. At its finale in October, there were 13 vendors participating. "We anticipate more than that this year," Myslinsky noted.
According to Myslinsky, the market will begin the Thursday after Memorial Day and will continue until mid-October. "We could start the market two weeks earlier," he noted. "Those will be devoted exclusively to FFA chapters in the county. Those two weeks are in the works. If they don't occur, we want to work with the FFA a lot, once we start in the end of May." He added, "If they will come and be with us, I think that is pretty exciting."
There are also activities to be expected at this year's farmers' market. One activity that Myslinsky calls "Nourish the Soul" will include music. "We hope to have that every four weeks. Some of the music we will have to pay for. Some will play for food . . . Some play and sing, and we provide them with a box of food, and everyone is happy."
Myslinsky also mentioned "Sprout Days." "Sprout days will be for children's activities. Those will be anything from bubble-making to demonstrations of what different vegetables are." Myslinsky said that there could also be a scavenger hunt, such as a hunt to find the vegetable in the market that has the red veins. "It will give kids an opportunity to get some exposure."
"We are also going to have a series of wellness markets. Those are going to be provided with support of Wetzel County Hospital and also Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department." Myslinsky explained that the wellness markets would include blood pressure checks and educational information.
Lastly, Myslinsky said there could be cooking demonstrations by local restaurants. "They will have to cook from what's available at the market. We'll see how creative they are willing to be . . . That should be really fun."
Myslinsky said some of the costs that are associated with activities are being picked up by marketing; those fees match the fees that are being charged in Marietta. For instance, Myslinsky explained that vendors who are selling for a year, are charged $50, whereas those who come in on a weekly basis and do not sell as often are charged $5 per week.
Additionally, Myslinsky stated that canvas bags and T-shirts would be sold at the markets. Also, locally printed market fliers that will be distributed through grocery stores and other stores give important information such as times and dates for the farmers' market, as well as all the different products that are available.
Myslinsky said Grow Local, Go Local is also proud of the fact that they got a very small grant that allowed them to purchase a wireless terminal that accepts VISA, Mastercard, SNAP, and WIC cards.
Myslinsky explained that grants are usually not available to Grow Local, Go Local, because they are not yet classified as a 501(c)3. Despite that, Grow Local, Go Local matches the criteria in that they are an educational, non-profit organization, but they are not registered with the federal government. "Some organizations that want to give us money, cannot," Myslinsky explained.
Regardless, Myslinsky said the fact that the organization was able to get a wireless terminal is "pretty exciting." Myslinsky said that customers with cards will receive tokens, which can be spent on the food items, if they are WIC or SNAP customers. Those who have a VISA or Mastercard, can spend their tokens on food and non-food products, which include handmade soaps.
Myslinsky said that in order to follow regulations, the farmers' market will be required to have a hand-washing station this year. Also, the market is required to hire a part-time market manager to take care of jobs such as the duties related to the terminal machine and the accounting of the machine. For instance, vendors who received tokens during a farmers' market will turn in their tokens at the end of the market and will receive checks during the next week.
Besides payment for the part-time manager, Myslinsky said that Grow Local, Go Local is also in need of funds for insurance for the market. "Because we are not a 501(c)3, we can't go out for grants. I'm asking if the county would give any assistance to those two expenses."
"Why don't you sit down and mark all of that down, and get it to us," Commission Vice President Bob Gorby said. "(Commission President) Don will be back next week."
"Would you like a full market budget or full program budget?" Myslinsky asked.
"What you want from us," Gorby explained. "Write it down and what it's for."
"I'll write down all the money coming in from fees, marketing, and what you allocated through the VISTA, which will be spent for things like these market fliers and radio stations broadcasting from the market, that we'll have at the market to promote the market," Myslinsky stated. "I really appreciate your time."
"You've done a lot of work," Commissioner Lemon stated.
Gorby also mentioned the fact that Grow Local, Go Local member Don Macnaughtan is very involved in the initiative.
"Don is the president of the Community Garden Association, and he likes that those people that were involved, particularly in his offices and board members, are very passionate about people growing their own food, eating better, and that it's happening locally," Myslinsky said.
"Anyone can go to a market or auction and buy produce," he added, but mentioned that the food bought at the Grow Local, Go Local markets is being sold by the person that grew it. "Customers want to know the people that have grown the food, and they want to build a relationship with the people who have grown the food . . . It means a lot and we are going to stress that."