Highmark’s Gift

When Highmark West Virginia donated $10,000 last week to fund the building of 49 raised bed gardens behind the Downtown Farmers’ Marketplace in Parkersburg, it became part of a conversation that is taking place across the state – about fresh fruits and vegetables and the health of our communities.

With the hope that local schools and organizations, as well as members of the public, will make use of the gardens, Downtown PKB Director Carrie Nesselrode said anyone from students to downtown office workers could be learning about growing their own food.

Given recent declarations that large portions of rural West Virginia have become “food deserts,” and the disturbing health statistics our state suffers, such an education could be a wonderful thing for Parkersburg.

“We need to be doing this for our community,” Nesselrode said.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the state, vocational-agriculture and ProStart programs are helping students learn to grow and preserve fruits and vegetables that can be used in their schools’ cafeterias. It is a movement that is reviving skills that, for generations, were a necessary part of everyday life in Appalachia.

Any effort that can pull West Virginians back from the dangerous combination of sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits should be applauded, and Highmark’s gift will help Downtown PKB do just that. Local folks should jump at the opportunity to get their hands a little dirty and reap the benefits of their own garden-grown produce, and local schools should do their best to give students an opportunity to gain skills that could keep them a little healthier for the rest of their lives.