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'Micro-farm' offers organic opportunities on Charleston's West Side

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Shelli Haddad raked fresh soil around a wooden planter that would one day soon will be an organic vegetable garden.

Haddad eyed the trough's construction closely, because she wants to build one just like it in her own yard.

"I'm here trying to learn how to do this myself," Haddad said. "I'm just trying to get back to the old-school ways of living."

About a dozen people came together Saturday to build several garden beds at the intersection of Rebecca Street and 6th Avenue on Charleston's West Side.

They envision the space to one day becoming a "micro-farm" with beds for farmers to grow vegetables to sell and a community space for organic farming education.

Cullen Naumoff, with the Charleston Area Alliance, is spearheading the project.

The project is part of Alliance's Sustainable Agriculture Entrepreneurs, or SAGE, program. SAGE operates micro-farms, teaches 12 different classes on agriculture and six different classes in farming entrepreneurship. It aims to create economic opportunities, minimize impacts on the environment and provide access to healthy food options.

Several of the program's participants have built and maintained a micro-farm along Ohio Avenue. That space now serves as a learning space for future participants in the program.

Participants would eventually grow and maintain their own gardens at the Rebecca Street location, Naumoff said.

"Our growers can then use this space as a secondary source of income," she said. "They can sell the vegetables at the farmers market or to local businesses."

Naumoff said SAGE vegetables are sold to Bluegrass Kitchen, Mission Savvy, Sarah's Bakery and Ms. Groovy's Cafe.

The Rebecca Street space is also shared with the West Virginia University Extension Office, which hopes to plant several fruit trees there.

Naumoff said eventually the space would feature a community garden and children's discovery zone.

Tom Tolliver, director of Family Youth and Development Services, maintains two other gardens around Charleston. The Rebecca Street location is one of a kind because it offers economic opportunities, he said. It's also getting the community involved.

He's leasing the space to the Charleston Area Alliance. He placed fliers around the neighborhood before the garden's construction and got several positive responses. A few families came to help on Saturday.

"I always say the best way to keep children out of trouble is to put a shovel in their hand and put them to work," he said.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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