ACEnet is delighted to be working as a consultant with Grow Ohio Valley to strengthen their regional food economy in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. Grow Ohio Valley is a Wheeling-based nonprofit with a mission to achieve regional food security. Partners in Central Appalachia might be familiar with Grow Ohio Valley’s recent enterprise development which has included establishing several urban farms and the Public Market grocery store on Main Street in downtown Wheeling. Recently Grow OV has secured a number of USDA and ARC funded grants to support their work for market expansion, food production, aggregation and distribution.

Ohio Valley farmers are already growing high quality food, and chefs, bakers and restaurateurs are producing wonderful products too. For the GrowOV team, with close support from WVDA, investment in a regional food hub seemed like the logical next step. The project team envisions a facility with shared commercial kitchen space, food processing & packaging equipment, refrigeration, and other facilities equipment that may be too expensive for small, local businesses to purchase outright.

A few months ago, Grow Ohio Valley procured a warehouse building in downtown Wheeling. Our goal is to renovate this property to serve as a tool for local farmers and food entrepreneurs. Danny Swan explains: “We’re envisioning a well-equipped facility to be used by farm & food businesses, with facilities for: commercial kitchen, processing, value-added production, co-packing, farm-to-school, product aggregation, and loading & cross-docking. Our hope is that this facility will expand the market-reach of local farmers, chefs, bakers, and food entrepreneurs.”

On July 14th, six members of the Grow Ohio Valley management team spent a day with ACEnet staff to share their project goals and tour the Food Ventures Center and the Food and Farm Enterprise Center. Kacey Gantzer, one tour group members and representative of the WV Department of Agriculture, expressed “Our goal is to help farmers and chefs reach customers with great Ohio Valley-made products. A facility like this can be a tool for business success and economic development.”

ACEnet staff will be working closely with executive director, Danny Swan and his team to share our infrastructure design and market development experience. Over the next five months ACEnet staff will assist with the feasibility study for the food hub. We are excited once again to be working with passionate regional collaborators. “This Food Hub represents a major step forward for Wheeling to realize its potential as a world-class city,” Swan added, “with a thriving regional food system.”

Community Update by Director of Programs, Leslie Schaller