Rainelle Agricultural Learning Center grows more than food

Two years ago the EPA’s Local Food, Local Places initiative identified Rainelle and the surrounding areas as a federal initiative providing direct technical support to rural communities to help build strong food systems as part of their economic action plan.

Out of that plan came the Rainelle Agricultural Learning Center, located at Rainelle Elementary School. Not only are they growing food, they are growing our next generation of farmers. The students , encouraged by the staff, faculty and tireless volunteers, start their seeds, nurture their seedlings, plant and grow all the food grown in the high tunnel.

These student farmers are our greatest investment. They are sponges for learning and love to get their hands dirty. One thing they are learning is that farmers eat well in both good times and in bad. The faithful volunteers and students are reaping the rewards of their labors at the Western Greenbrier Farmers Market.

The Town of Rainelle has provided the location, the site of the former King Coal Hotel, and a large aluminum canopy.  Each week they try to incorporate a little Appalachia into the market. At the first market, Steve Redden demonstrated the fine art of sapling whistles.

The students now are in the business mode of agriculture, the fun part – making money. Every week, fourth grader Maeve is harvesting, cleaning, marketing and selling vegetables at the Western Greenbrier Farmers Market, along with fifth grader, Maverick. So great are the rewards from the high tunnel, the market has now expanded into two mobile markets in Quinwood and Meadow Bridge. Meadow Bridge market sold out in less than an hour.

Michael S. Gwinn, representing Farm Family Insurance, is the Meadow Bridge coordinator. Gwinn goes all out for the market by providing a location, coffee, canopy and tables for the event. Quinwood city recorder Cassandra Baker is the Quinwood coordinator. The demand for fresh, local food will spur yet another market in Rupert on July 8 at the site of the former Valu-Max Store.

Students from the learning center have been given support from the agricultural community in Greenbrier County. Gary Sawyer, president of the Greenbrier Valley Soil and Conservation is one of them. “Coach” Sawyer, as he is often referred to in Greenbrier County, recognizes the importance of growing the next generation of farmers, since the average age of the U.S. farmer is 64 years old.

Lewis Ashby, West Virginia state coordinator, NCRS, paid a visit to RALC this spring, where he witnessed the investments made from the community, including state and federal efforts. So impressed, he asked for short and long-term plans, as well as raising the bar for the students by asking if more science and math be incorporated in the agricultural experience.

To learn more about the Rainelle Agricultural Learning Center, go to You Tube, type in “Growing for the Good Rainelle Elementary,” or visit Rainelle Agricultural Leaning Center on Facebook.

Market Days and Times:

  • Rainelle, every Friday, 4-6 p.m., Corner of 11th Street and Main (King Coal Hotel Site)
  • Quinwood Town Hall, every Friday, throughout the day
  • Meadow Bridge, Michael S. Gwinn Insurance Agency, every Friday, 5:45-7 p.m.

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