It sounds like a dream come true: Increase access to local, fresh produce while simultaneously creating jobs.
That's exactly what Cullen Naumoff and Kelly Crane expect from a project they're about to launch on the West Side.
"We know we have an obesity problem, a diabetes problem," said Naumoff, who worked with Crane to develop the West Side Farmers Market.
While developing the market, "we discovered there is a dearth of local food supply," Naumoff said. "There was demand from end markets - restaurants, consumers, CSA (community supported agriculture) aggregators. But they weren't able to find the produce they needed. So putting all of these pieces together - access to local and fresh produce, lack of supply, and the need for jobs - we thought, 'Why don't we do job training in terms of food production?'
"Underscoring this whole initiative is this staggering statistic: The food economy in West Virginia is worth $7 billion, of which West Virginians' market share is $6 million. There are two ways to look at that: We're struggling. But oh my word, there's so much opportunity."
Naumoff and Crane are focusing on the opportunity. The project goes by an unwieldy name: the Sustainable Urban Agriculture Initiative, or SUAI.
The SUAI has two phases. "The first is creating what we term 'agripreneurs,'" Naumoff said. Tighe Bullock of Bullock Properties has donated the back yard of an apartment building he owns for the project. It is near the corner of Washington Street West and Ohio Street on the West Side.
Naumoff and Crane are in the process of designing an outdoor classroom garden in the sunny lot.
Bullock said he donated the property because he knows Naumoff and Crane and believes they'll do some great things with the space.
Naumoff said SUAI participants will go through monthly courses for one year. "We'll take anyone who can participate," she said. "We're aiming for 20 participants, ideally from the West Side, in year one."
Participants will pay a $100 fee so they have an investment in the project.
A group of University of Charleston students is helping recruit participants and develop a database of products that are in demand. Naumoff and Crane also are working with the West Virginia University Extension Service.
The "agripreneurs" will have one class a month for 12 months. Six of the classes will be devoted to agriculture. "We'll train you how to re-create an urban micro farm in your own yard," Naumoff said. "We'll also give you the skills necessary to grow valuable produce in that urban space."
Naumoff brings business skills to the project and Crane has the agriculture know-how. Crane graduated from the University of Georgia in 2009