By Glynis Board
WHEELING -- The Green Wheeling Initiative began informally in 2010. Today it's a grassroots organization comprised of educators, farmers, entrepreneurs, and professionals dedicated to strengthening the local food supply in the Wheeling area.
To date, the initiative has been awarded more than $65,000 in grant funding from local and national foundations. This money is being used to create business plans, provide community micro-grants, and to have a positive impact on the growth of the local food supply.
Terry Sheldon is one of the founders of the Green Wheeling Initiative. He's lived in the New Vrindaban Community in Marshall County since the late 1970s and runs and operates the community gardens there. Sheldon says together with Wheeling residents and local organizations, the initiative has taken on a life of its own.
"It seemed that the more low-key we were the more we were over-performing and under-advertising the more attraction we got and the more people became interested," Sheldon says. "So what's making it work is the collaborative nature of the initiative."
Sheldon says he sees great potential in cities like Wheeling to create a sustainable economy with what he calls "green-collared" jobs.
"If you're going to actually grow food in an urban environment you're going to need soils that are nutrient-dense. So the biomass from lawn clippings, leaves, grass, biomass that you find in the city's effort to clean up branches and brambles and what-not, can be made into compost. The delivery of those, the actual teaching of gardening skills to people in neighborhoods -- what we want to create is a whole new city center in which the opportunity to grow, market, and prosper economically is jointly conducted by private enterprise, by academia, by the community itself."
One aspect of the initiative is a series of workshops offered throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
The Wheeling Mountain Sprouts is a support group for families in the Ohio Valley area interested in natural and holistic family living. They are one of the groups partnering with the Green Wheeling Initiative.
Some of their interests include local foods, cloth diapering, natural childbirth, holistic health care, green cleaning and home care, gardening, spending time outdoors with children, breastfeeding, and home schooling.
As part of the Green Wheeling Initiative, the group held a low-key workshop on integrating nature and sustainability in family life.
Kelly Swan founded the Wheeling Mountain Sprouts holistic parenting group in 2011.
"Around a year ago I had a six-month-old baby," Swan remembers.
"I had stopped working and I was seeing that there were a number of people in the area who were interested in natural and holistic parenting practices and none of them knew each other. There wasn't any community happening and people felt very isolated so I decided to pull together some of these people and create a group where we could come together monthly and talk about holistic parenting things."
"What I expected to be about 10 moms has turned out to be somewhere between 15 and 30 families and we also have a discussion board online that has almost 200 members right now."
Jamie O'Hare is also a Sprout leader. She and her family moved into the area several years ago and began looking for a community of like-minded parents to hang out with.
"It's been really neat that we have this group that is community that is a diversity of lifestyles and faith backgrounds," O'Hare says.
"It's great that everybody can support each other in whatever way that they want to raise their kids but we're all looking for way to find more natural solutions to common family issues and especially non-corporate solutions. Just what we can pull together from just the knowledge we have within the group."
Sheldon says the Green Wheeling Initiative is possible because of and for people like the O'Hares and the Swans. He hopes that the effort will continue to grow into a larger sustainable future for community in the state.
"We're just in a very timely position to do something that's badly needed in the greater Ohio Valley," says Sheldon, "which is to take a post-industrial culture that's in collapse and turn it into something that could become wonderful for everybody: a green-collared economy that will keep people in the area."
With the funds made available through the national Benedum Foundation, and locally through the Hess Family Foundation, the Green Wheeling Initiative currently administers micro-grants of $200-400, resources, and advice to help people start gardens.
Right now there are seven projects operating with the help of such grants in the Wheeling area. Sheldon says they are always looking for new applications.