Touring the Eastern Panhandle
Sarah Hott - Try This WV Eastern Panhandle Regional AmeriCorps
April 20, 2022
On a recent bright spring morning, I drove towards Martinsburg on scenic route 45, an idyllic byway decorated with blooming orchards. I passed by ponds inhabited by families of geese, and saw stately historic homes as I traveled to meet Carla Toolan, Community and Research Programs Manager, WVU Health Sciences. We had an itinerary to follow- The Eastern Panhandle Tour- highlighting regional groups and individuals who are doing creative, community-minded work in this far-eastern pocket of West Virginia.
Our first stop was Ranson Community Gardens where we were met by Scott Hutton, president of RCG, and master gardener Jeane Marie King. Tucked away on the edge of town, RCG is several acres of well-managed space. There is a high tunnel and multiple round and rectangular raised beds. The beds belong to individuals or groups in the community who can grow whatever they choose. There is also a community space which includes picnic tables and is bordered by a pollinator garden - a certified Monarch Waystation.
Pictured left: the Ranson Community Garden sign.
Pictured center: metal trellises covering round garden beds.
Pictured right: an unfinished mosaic art piece lying in the sun.
There is an ingenious watering system at RCG. Rainwater is collected from the roof of the Ranson Civic Center next door, piped under the street and into large containers. There is a solar pump that sends the water out into the gardens.
Sacred Roots Herbal Sanctuary is offering free classes this spring at RCG. Participants planted medicinal herbs in the high tunnel and will learn how to care for them and use them.
RCG partners with youth organizations such as the Opportunity Learning Center. Groups of students come by to learn and do some hands-on gardening. Currently, the students are creating pottery mosaics that will cover the surface of cinder block planters in front of the high tunnel. Scott is now working on an ongoing project to connect the RCG to Evitts Run Park, just across the border in Charles Town. A walking path would connect the two green spaces, a link between communities.
Pictured left: the Ranson Community Garden water system.
Pictured center: solar panels near the Ranson Community Garden high tunnel.
Pictured right: plant ID stakes in the dirt in the high tunnel.
Our second stop was at Jefferson County Community Ministries in Charles Town. We met with director Keith Lowry, administrative assistant Judy James, and case management coordinator Kasey Purdue. JCCM assists individuals in need, both in emergencies and long-term. They offer seven categories of services: Intake, Clothing, Food Pantry, Day Programs, Cold Weather Shelter, Health Care, Case Management. We learned that they may be the only organization of their kind east of the Mississippi, since they offer all of the services needed to meet the needs of their clients, not just a few. JCCM has a doctor on staff, Dr. Maddie Humerick. She sees patients at the clinic that would normally be seen in the ER, reducing the strain on emergency services at the local hospital.
What impressed me most about JCCM is the level of compassion and dedication the organization has for their clients- many of whom are homeless and struggle with addiction. They provide vital services to a marginalized population with diverse needs.
Pictured: Jefferson Community Ministries sign.
A quick walk up the sidewalk revealed the sunlit storefront of Bushel & Peck. We had a friendly, informative chat with chief operating officer Todd Coyle. Bushel & Peck is described as “a locally/regionally sourced grocery store operated by The Jefferson GAP (Growers, Artisans, Producers) Coalition in partnership with the Charles Town Farmers Market." It is an inviting space- a renovated old building with high ceilings and loads of character. It’s stocked with fresh local produce and dairy products, along with numerous other enticing products.
Pictured left: Bushel & Peck reusable bag on a table inside their store.
Pictured right: fruit stands and refrigerator section inside Bushel & Peck store.
At our next stop, Carla and I caught up with Dana DeJarnett and Karin Kozlowski, who were just finishing up leading a session of the Walk With Ease program. Dana is the Promotion coordinator at WVU Berkeley and Jefferson Medical Center. Karin is a Nutrition Outreach Instructor with WVU Medicine. Walk With Ease is a community-based physical activity program targeted towards individuals with arthritis or other health issues. Active Southern WV partners with extension offices throughout the state to implement the program.
Pictured left: bright and colorful fruit and vegetable salad on a table outside.
Pictured right: a view of the Burke Street Elementary garden beds with flowers.
Then, after a fabulous lunch at Good Natured Collective Market and Cafe, we visited the Burke Street Elementary School. This is the site of the Burke Street Elementary School Garden Based Learning Project, funded by a Try This minigrant in 2020-2021. Carla showed me the raised beds that are on one edge of the playground. The grant funded two additional raised beds and a garden-based learning program led by a Master Gardener. A plan is in place for students to resume gardening activities in May and the garden-based curriculum will be continued into the next school year.
Nearing the end of our tour, we stopped by the Gardens of Promise. This community garden project is currently on hold due to the results of recent soil testing.
Our last stop of the day was at WVU Center for Diabetes and Metabolic Health. This is the site of the Farm To You project, also funded by a Try This minigrant in 2020-21. This project partnered with local farms and provided $10-$15 of produce to patients, who shopped at pop-up farmers markets that were set up at the Center. While there, we met with Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, a long-time partner with Try This WV. He spoke briefly about a study he is beginning concerning childhood obesity.
Pictured left: Garden of Promise sign with logo on a shed.
Pictured right: WVU Medicine Center for Diabetes and Metabolic Health sign on building.
The Eastern Panhandle Tour was a definite success. I am indebted to Carla Toolan for her generosity in sharing her time and expertise. It was a privilege to meet so many dedicated and talented people who are working to make a positive difference in the lives of West Virginians.
- Sarah Hott, Try This WV Eastern Panhandle Region AmeriCorps