Volunteers helping with Mingo healthier lifestyles

By Kyle Lovern

September 13, 2013

Over the past two years, many organizations and individuals have come together to help create a healthier, stronger, Mingo County. The proof is all around: an increase in 5k’s and walks around the county, a thriving farmer’s market, and expanding community gardens.

At the community gardens, community partners and service learning organizations form around the region have constructed over 30 raised gardening beds for community use, and two high tunnels which provide the harvest to the farmers market.

Williamson resident Burl Blevins lives at the Williamson Towers across the street, and he dedicates several hours each week to help mow and weed various parts of the gardens. Burl has also planted flowers along much of the fence lining the road.

For years he has planted vegetables on the hill behind the towers, and plans to rent several plots at the garden next year.

“I have never been able to grow tomatoes due to lack of sunlight, and next year I can,” Blevins said.

Sales from the produce harvested at the garden by volunteer labor, has helped to increase sales at the Williamson Farmers Market this year. Profit made goes right back into these local food projects.

“With help from local landscape architect Ingrid Curry, and input from many community members, we were able to come up with a vision for the garden,” said Maria Arnot, Health and Wellness Promoter for the Mingo County Diabetes Coalition.

“This summer, we had several volunteer groups that made immense progress and got much of the construction started…but now we are really looking for help from within the community,” Arnot said.

The Williamson Redevelopment Authority (WRA) and Mingo County Diabetes Coalition (MCDC) are always looking for help with various activities, especially at the market and community gardens.

Paula Reed, who has lived in the area for 35 years, recently started volunteering with local food projects. She rents plots at the community gardens, and spends 8 hours a week at the Farmers Market.

“I first got involved with the community garden after I had heard about the community garden plots, and because I did not have a garden spot of my own at home. I started renting two plots, and I absolutely loved it,” Reed said. “Then in July, I saw the volunteers who came to work at the garden [from Boston] to help build the raised beds and arbors. I thought it was wonderful that people were willing to give up their own time to help people they don’t know, and to help our community. It made me realize how proud I am of our community.”

Reed said that she is very thankful for her community and these projects, and that she really enjoys helping out.

An opportunity to get involved will be from Oct. 23rd through Dec. 4th. During this time, a group of 12 AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps volunteers will be coming to Williamson, and will help to complete the construction on East End. The group of 18-24 year olds from around the country will be here for 5 weeks, working with many organizations to improve Mingo County.

Anne Lambright, WRA Commissioner and President of the Wildwood Garden Club, also encourages people to show their support for these projects.

“So many community members have donated their time and money but I know there are others who might like that opportunity. The projects could always use help and there is a wonderful chance to volunteer coming up next month,” Lambright said.

One opportunity for volunteers is to help set-up and breakdown the famers market. This Saturday, on Sept. 14th for example, crafts vendors will be set up alongside the usual vendors to sell items such as homemade tutus and bows, soaps, candles, lotions, wood carvings, embroidery and more. Additionally, local entrepreneur Buddy Preece will be setting up and selling juice from his juice bar. In Oct. they will be hosting pumpkin carving.

If you are interested in volunteering, but are not physically able or are too busy during this time, the WRA and MCDC are also accepting donations to help buy supplies or to hire a local worker to help assist with these projects.

For more information about how you can help the Farmers Market or Community Gardens, please e-mail Maria at marnot@mingodiabetes.com, or call 304-235-3400.