By RACHEL C DOVE
WILLIAMSON - “On behalf of the City of Williamson, I sincerely thank you for all you have done with this project,” said Williamson Mayor Darrin McCormick, as he addressed volunteers who were assisting with the construction of a “High Tunnel” greenhouse that will be used to allow for an early start on the produce growing season this spring.
McCormick, along with Bill Richardson, Extension Agent for West Virginia University; Bill Stewart, Director of the Wayne County Farmer’s Market/President, Wayne County Farm Bureau; Terry Hudson, creator of the “High Tunnel” used as a proto-type for the West Virginia State University grant for construction and supply costs; and Eric Mathis and his fellow workers with the Williamson Redevelopment Authority met in East Williamson on the lot located opposite the Williamson Towers, to begin construction on the first of the tunnel greenhouses that will serve the Williamson Farmer’s Market.
The concept of the high tunnel greenhouses is to create a contained, controlled environment in which to begin the growth of vegetables and flowers earlier in the season than you could do in a successful manner if you were planting in the ground with no covering or protection. It is heated by the sun that is magnified through the greenhouse grade plastic that will cover the metal and wood structure.
“The grant acquired by West Virginia State allows for the construction of ten of the tunnel greenhouses, but the first one we have assembled to be used for a community garden is this one in Williamson,” said Hudson. “We purchase all the supplies locally, in an effort to put that money back into the community.”
Stewart and his wife are eager to assist with the Williamson Farmer’s Market, as they have successfully overseen the markets in Wayne County since they first began. The markets in Wayne have tripled through the five years they have been in existence, multiplying from one to three.
“We’re more than happy to help Mingo County get their market going, and I feel it’s going to be a great success,” said Stewart. “In Wayne County, we have utilized the home confinement workers to help with the garden chores, as well as a variety of groups, organizations and students – the list goes on and on.
“We have over 1,200 members in the Farm Bureau and over 160 of those are from Mingo County, so we’re excited to have the chance to help them here in their own communities.”
The greenhouse currently under construction in East Williamson is 18x50 square foot (inside diameter), and if all goes as planned, two more of similar size will be added to the lot. In April, a large group of volunteers will begin the plowing and planting in the community garden, but those plants housed inside the tunnel greenhouse will be sowed a lot earlier.
The Williamson Farmer’s Market is a dream that McCormick has had for some time, and he is very pleased to see it becoming a reality. Local farmers and gardeners will bring their produce/flowers to the designated location in town where they can either set up and peddle their wears, or have them sold by workers at the market.
Stewart commented that he is in the process of getting the paperwork completed to be able to accept the state EBT (food stamp) cards, and said that WIC and Senior vouchers will also be accepted.
“In the past, farmers typically grow more produce than their families will consume, and they will either give it away or try to sell it,” said Stewart. “With the farmers market in place, nothing has to go to waste, and the farmers can make a profit in one location.”
Hudson commented that one of the high tunnel greenhouses will be constructed on the campus of the Wayne County High School, and will be used for instructional purposes to teach the students how to assemble them.
“The high tunnel here in Williamson is the eighth or ninth one we have constructed so far, the others being in Putnam, Wayne, Greenbrier, Roane, Jackson, Fayette and Ohio counties,” said Hudson. “It takes approximately 20 hours to complete one from start to finish, and that’s with a five man crew doing the work. If a person wants to build one of these on their property for personal use, they can build one this size for right under $1,000.”
Richardson said that these products are an outgrowth of farmers markets, and are both an educational and a productive resource.
“We use this to train local farmers how to use high tunnels to extend their growing season to include early and late crops, which will increase their profits,” said Richardson. “Crops we raise here will be sold at the local farmers market.
“Everything we are doing here has been paid for by grants, and is being built with volunteer labor. It has cost the community nothing, but they will reap the rewards.”
“We want everyone to know that this rejuvenation project is the first steps to what will initially be a much larger project,” said Mathis, of the Williamson Redevelopment Authority.
“Look for more construction at this site.”
Two local men who reside at the Williamson Towers were watching the construction of the high tunnel take place, and commented their concerns were that it would be vandalized or that the produce would be a victim of theft once it reached maturity.
“I love the idea, I think it’s great,” said Frank Pacific, “But I don’t think plastic is enough to keep vandals out of it. They need a fence all the way around it.”
“I like the idea of having a chance to raise a garden and trade out good with other farmers,” said Frank Finnell. “I just hope that people respect what the city is trying to do here, and don’t bother or destroy anything.”
For more information on the high tunnels, or on the soon to open Williamson Farmer’s Market, call Williamson City Hall at (304) 235-1510, or the Wayne County Farm Bureau, at (304) 272-6422.
“This is a huge step in the right direction, and we’re excited about the plans falling in place to open the Williamson Farmer’s Market later this year,” said McCormick.