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Wheeling groups have big hopes for apple orchard

Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Scott McCloskey A 5-acre apple orchard is to be planted on the hillside at the former Vineyard Hill property.
Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Scott McCloskey
A 5-acre apple orchard is to be planted on the hillside at the former Vineyard Hill property.

WHEELING, W.Va. — Officials with three downtown Wheeling development groups believe apples are at the core to redeveloping abandoned land in East Wheeling.

On Wednesday, representatives of the Wheeling National Area Corp., Grow Ohio Valley and Reinvent Wheeling announced they had received a planning and technical assistance grant from the White House Rural Council that will assist them in planting a 5-acre apple orchard on the former Vineyard Hill property at 1006 Grandview Ave. They made their announcement in the art gallery at the Wheeling Artisan Center, where they were joined by officials with the Appalachian Regional Council, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the West Virginia Development office.

The site is owned by the Wheeling Housing Authority, and already has a history with food production, said Jeremy Morris, executive director of WNHAC. American Indians used the soil for farming, as did early settlers. Priests later used the land to grow grapes used to make sacramental wine, he said.

“It’s with this history in mind that Wheeling Heritage, Grow Ohio Valley and Reinvent Wheeling are partnering together to reclaim this agricultural heritage,” Morris said.

The three entities together applied for the White House Rural Council grant, created in 2011 by the Obama administration to promote rural economic development. The groups learned last week their grant was accepted.

And since Wheeling falls within the borders of Appalachia, the project also is eligible to receive up to $20,000 in start-up funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission, according to Ken Peralta, executive director of Grow Ohio Valley.

Grow Ohio Valley already has obtained a $25,000 Specialty Crop Block Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture through the West Virginia Department of Agriculture to develop the orchards project.

“By transforming an abandoned hillside right next to downtown Wheeling, we can create a public asset in Wheeling – one that draws visitors downtown and produces foods and fruits for generations to come,” he said.

Additional plans for the property are to be announced, but Peralta said for now Grow Ohio Valley hopes to plant a 5-acre apple orchard on the hillside, and add a children’s farm there where local school children can come to East Wheeling to learn about farming and food production methods.

Monica Miller, manager for capacity development with the West Virginia Development Office, said Wheeling soon could be designated a “main street” community through the state agency, making it eligible for federal community improvement funds.

“Wheeling is experiencing a new energy,” she said. “This will provide many opportunities for the next generation to live here, and come back here.”

Doug O’Brien, deputy undersecretary for rural development with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the Wheeling groups were among 26 to receive the grant out of 316 applicants.

Morris said a farming area in East Wheeling will bring vibrancy to the downtown.

“Local farmers markets are a key part of every major city,” he said. “That’s why you see smaller cities like Wheeling wanting to embrace that. Hopefully it will bring some economic development to the downtown. … The big thing is we’re growing food locally, and people who want to buy locally are having that opportunity because of what Grow Ohio Valley is doing.”

Grow Ohio Valley has operated Farm 18 in East Wheeling for the past five years. It is a one-acre organic garden located at the intersection of 18th and Wood streets beneath the W.Va. 2 viaduct in East Wheeling that produced 10,000 pounds of organic produce last year. This food is usually sold or donated to those living in the neighborhood.

Danny Swan with Grow Ohio Valley said initial food sales have been “encouraging.” He expects the additional property on Vineyard Hill will allow the organization to triple its annual food production.

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