By RACHEL C. DOVE
WILLIAMSON - With the sunshine beaming down upon them, a large group of individuals came together in East Williamson Tuesday afternoon to take part in a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the official opening of the Williamson Community Garden.
The garden, a collaboration between the Williamson Redevelopment Authority, Central Appalachian Sustainable Economies (CASE), the Wildwood Garden Club, the Americorps NCCC team and local volunteers, features a greenhouse and 24 individually raised beds.
Mayor Darrin McCormick conducted the grand opening of the garden, and spoke highly of all those who volunteered their time, financial support and donated supplies.
“There are so many people, organizations and businesses to thank for this project being successful,” said the mayor. “This was a dream of ours that we’ve been working on for the past 3-5 years, and it’s very satisfying to see the pieces fall into place.”
The mayor was joined in the ribbon cutting by members of the Williamson Wildwood Garden Club, Williamson Redevelopment Authority, Americorps NCCC team, Appalachian Coal Country Team, East Williamson Baptist Church, the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce and CASE.
Helen Stanley of the Mingo Bottling Company was appointed as the Director for the Williamson Farmer’s Market, slated to open on Saturday, May 26, and spoke of how important the greenhouse and garden plots would be to the market, to assure a steady supply of produce will be available for the public throughout the summer season. Stanley plans to purchase two more of the “high tunnel” greenhouses identical to the one know standing, and said she feels the additions will greatly increase the success of the market.
“I’m excited about the idea of us growing the majority of the Farmer’s Market produce right here in the Community Garden,” said Stanley. “Our plans are to have not only an assortment and variety of fruits and vegetables for sale to the public, but a notable quantity of each item also. We have to stay stocked, there’s no question about that.”
Pauline Sturgill, the newly appointed director for the Williamson Redevelopment Authority, expressed her gratitude for all those who have worked on this project, and said these plans were put into motion several years ago and are finally a reality.
Dee Kapourales, who was one of the members of the Williamson Wildwood Garden Club that participated in the ribbon cutting, remarked that on behalf of her and fellow members, she wanted to say how very proud to have been involved in the Community Garden, and stated they would continue to assist in any way they could.
“This site is very important for those who love gardening but aren’t fortunate enough to have a place of their own to plant,” said Kapourales. “There are individuals who live in the Towers who have already been over here participating in the construction and planting, and we encourage everyone to do the same.
“It’s exactly what the name says, it’s a Community Garden.”
One of the residents of the Williamson Towers that Kapourales was speaking of was Bill Gibson, who has volunteered day after day at the garden. He was given a warm round of applause for his efforts by all those attending the ceremony.
“Everyone thinks I’m teaching these young people how to garden, and I guess that’s probably true,” said Gibson. “The truth is, I’m learning from them to.
“I figure they’ve probably got a trick or two up there sleeve or maybe they know some new technics that I’m not aware of. I might be 83-years-old, but you’re never too old to learn,” Gibson said with a smile.
Sister Janet Petersworth, of the Christian Help and ABLE Families Programs in Kermit, shared her thoughts on the garden, and said she believed this would not only be a site that would grow produce, but would also grow people together.
Bill Richardson, Mingo’s West Virginia University Extension Professor, played an important role in the garden’s success. He worked diligently to acquire funding, donations and volunteers that allowed the project to occur.
Richardson commented that he wanted to express his gratitude to the Bank of Mingo for supplying the Farmer’s Market with the equipment necessary to allow them to accept Food Stamps/EBT cards, senior vouchers, WIC Coupons, credit and debit cards. Richardson feels this will boost the sale of the items available at the market by a large percentage.
“We’re going to start small, and build with the demand,” said Richardson, as he and Stanley spoke with the Daily News about the market. “As of now, we only plan to be open on Saturday’s, beginning May 26, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. If the public requests more open days in the future, then we would definitely consider that a possibility.”
Stanley said that fresh produce would not be the only items available at the market, explaining that home-canned goods such as vegetables, jellies, jams, preserves and honey would be available, just to name a few. She also plans to have fresh eggs for sale also.
Richardson said that the market, which is scheduled to be located in the former Williamson Daily News building on Third Avenue, would have a few vendor spaces available for farmers who live within a 50-mile radius of Williamson. They will be able to sell their produce which will help them financially, and having the additional quantity of items available for sale will also increase the number of shoppers who visit the location.
“We’ve got several people that need to be thanked,” said Richardson. “Eric Mathis, Jenny Hudson and Darrin McCormick were all instrumental in this project.
“The mayor allowed us to use city property for the garden, and without that, it may never have come to pass. Eric was one of our lead coordinators and also provided student labor for the construction. Jenny wrote grants, organized the workers and did a wonderful job at promoting this project.
“I also want to mention Zach Beckett, a VISTA worker who has been in Williamson for about a year. He single handedly moved more loads of dirt and top-soil than anyone else.
“He’s definitely a worker.”
Anne Lambright, a local attorney and a member of the garden club, commented that she was very excited to see five years of work materialize into such a worthwhile project.
“This garden is going to benefit everyone, and I’m honored to be a part of it,” said Lambright.
Following the ribbon cutting, seed planting workshops were held with more are planned in the future. Garden organizers want to continue hosting workshops so that both experienced and new gardeners will be successful with in planting projects.
A founding member of CASE, Mathis noted that the garden itself is large (a few acres), but that the project represents an even larger move toward sustainable economies for the region.
“The garden and trainings supporting the farmer’s market began last year. Healthy eating options are part of the preventative health care side of what Williamson’s Health and Wellness Center is working on. Solar panel jobs like the one installed by former miner’s on top of that health center help pave the way for Williamson to stay a leader in all forms of energy production and ensure that people have a healthy market of job choices,” Mathis said.
“I’m excited for our area’s future and I absolutely can’t wait to sample some of the first crop that is grown in this garden.”
McCormick summed the project up with one simple phrase, saying this is “People helping people help themselves.”
For more information on the Community Garden and the garden plots available to the public, contact Allison Carey at her office inside the Williamson City Hall by calling 304-235-1510.