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Growing jobs leads to growing vegetables

By Candace Nelson

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A program that focuses on employing fathers is taking root - in the form of lettuce, spinach, kale and radishes.

The Kanawha Institute for Social Research & Action is selling organic vegetables from its urban garden today as part of its most recent program, the Growing Jobs Project, which helps local unemployed and low-income fathers who are looking for work.

The Dunbar operation includes two greenhouses, one for vegetables and the other for flowers.

"Our goal is to provide fathers with an opportunity to be providers for their families," said project manager Terri Berkley. "Through our greenhouses, a person who has been recently or formerly incarcerated can come to the program and be trained for six weeks.

"They gain skills on how to plant, harvest, compost, how to prevent diseases and take proactive steps on how to become a good greenhouse or garden manager, which is a dying skill that we want to make sure is not lost."

The sale is from 2 to 8 p.m. The organic produce includes radishes, green onions, romaine lettuce, lace leaf lettuce, butter crunch lettuce, spinach, mustard greens and kale.

"The other focus of the greenhouse is to provide organic products to our community," Berkley said. "We tell them to eat healthy, but some folks don't have the money to go to the grocery store and pay an extra $1 for a head of lettuce."

Community members can pick their own vegetables from the garden. Berkley said prices vary but will be cheaper than at local grocery stores.

"People can come in and pick their own lettuce, their own turnips, the kind of greens they like to have. It's a really unique type of opportunity. Instead of picking it up from the shelf and putting it in a bag, they pick it from the ground," Berkley said.

Delivery is offered at no additional cost. The food truck is another arm of the Growing Jobs Project, which can deliver healthy, organic food to local residents. Those interested can call 877-34-KISRA to place an order.

Berkley said a few groups already have taken advantage of the delivery service, including the sheriff's office, state police and a domestic violence shelter.

"A number of seniors are really excited about this service," she said. "I was talking to someone last week in the grocery store asking when we would get the food truck up and running because she was tired of making a 30-minute trip to the grocery store to get food for salads. With one phone call to KISRA, we can bring her everything that she's making that trip for."

Money from the crops will go back into the program to stimulate transitional employment, which is how men in the program are paid. About 25 people are participating, and the organization hopes to help 40 this year.

"When we get our guys, they start immediate employment. We put $8 to $15 in their pocket for an average of 30 hours per week," Berkley said. "They're gaining skill and working six-hour days. They get paid just like us.

"It's an opportunity for men to come, gain skill, get acclimated to a work culture most have never been in, and they get to take a check home and make a contribution to their household. You see them full circle through this greenhouse and immediately to employment."

In addition to the greenhouse offerings, the institute will host a health fair from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with screenings for diabetes and blood pressure. They also will distribute blood pressure cuffs and diabetes test strips and monitors.

The evening will include a 30-minute cooking demonstration and greenhouse tours.

"With West Virginia being one of the top states in obesity, and at every health fair or event they have, they're encouraging folks to eat healthy. Sometimes it's just not available," Berkley said. "We want to promote healthy eating, cooking and complement that by opening our community clinic."

The institute will sell crops daily from the urban farm. After today, they will know which hours best suit the community. Starting May 11, it also will operate a stand at the Capitol Market.

Bill Shanklin, the greenhouse manager and an instructor for the institute, has been working with the fathers to grow crops.

"I think the students are picking up on its success. None of them are gardeners - some might have a little experience," he said. "But they knew nothing about horticultural techniques. We're trying to teach in addition to the gardening is how to be able to sustain family food for themselves with a garden.

"This is a good program, and they're doing good. They're learning a lot."

The institute is at 131 Perkins Ave., and the greenhouses are directly across from the building. The institute welcomes community volunteers from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday to help in the greenhouse by watering plants, sowing seeds and more.

"We've been having good success, but we thought we'd open it up to folks not working or who have a day off," Berkley said. "We want everyone in the community to have a place here."

The participants in the Growing Jobs project are recruited from the institute's Responsible Fatherhood Program, which aims to help put fathers in a position to provide for their families and ultimately make a better environment for children.

For more information, call KISRA at 304-768-8924 or visit

Contact writer Candace Nelson at or 304-348-5148. Follow her at


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