Grow Ohio Valley: Empowering Food Access and Entrepreneurs

What started as an after-school urban gardening program has since blossomed into Grow Ohio Valley (Grow OV), an operation with around 50 employees working toward a single mission: improve the health and economic future of Wheeling, West Virginia through local food.

It’s a great mission for an organization rooted in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle. Wheeling is located within a day’s drive of 42% of the total U.S. population, making it strongly positioned as an aggregation and distribution center for the fastest growing sector in agriculture. Through a community-rooted approach, and more than $2 million in support from ARC, Grow OV is helping Wheeling become a local food powerhouse.  

Making Food Available and Affordable

In 2016, ARC awarded $20,000 help Grow OV execute planning efforts conducted through EPA’s Local Food, Local Places Initiative. The funding helped establish a 3.5-acre urban fruit orchard, a 1-acre urban farm with high tunnels, and expanded capacity in aggregation operations. This project’s success then led to a $796,924 ARC POWER grant for their project, Agribusiness Development in the Upper Ohio Valley, which helped Grow OV launch its Public Market. 

“The Appalachian Regional Commission gave us a POWER grant that was the start-up capital we needed to open up what’s been a transformative economic development and public health project.

The Public Market [is] may be the most prominent retail location in downtown Wheeling.”

Danny Swan, Executive Director

Serving as a year-round, non-profit grocery store, the Public Market and its café offer fresh food from Grow OV’s operations and local farmers in the heart of downtown. Their shelves feature products from over 40 regional farmers and vendors, who receive 70-80% of the profits from the items they sell through the store. The same products may only receive 15% in a traditional grocery store setting. Furthermore, the market accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, which helps ensure local products are within reach for all community members.

POWER funding also helped Grow OV expand the FARMacy program, a way to help improve community health through nourishing foods. Patients with chronic diseases or conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure receive a “prescription” for a weekly box of fresh produce, along with recipes, cooking tips, and food literacy provided by community agencies.  

In its first 18 months, the Public Market exceeded $1M in gross sales, doubling its early projections. Many producers, including Drew Manko of The Ross Farm, reported that their partnership with the market was a main factor in their business’ success and survival throughout COVID-19.  

I would consider [Grow OV] an anchor customer. Without their orders throughout the pandemic, I don’t know what we would’ve made it.

Drew Manko

Incubating Food Businesses

In 2022, Grow OV received another $1.5 million POWER grant for Wheeling Food Ventures: Small Farm and Food Business Acceleration in the Ohio Valley. The new project will allow Grow OV to transform a local warehouse into a facility providing local food entrepreneurs with the tools, guidance, and support services to scale production and enter new markets.

The project is expected to serve 35 businesses, improve 17 businesses, create five new businesses and 11 jobs, and leverage $525,000 in private investment. 

“This is a place where there’s great opportunity, a really tight sense of community that’s accessible and full of hospitality,” said Danny Swan. “Wheeling’s on the up and up—here we come!”