GRAFTON— Grafton is a small town, with a population of less than 6,000, that is constantly striving to better the community any way possible. The town’s Americorps Vista, Tyler Gorrell has recently stumbled upon an opportunity for Grafton to receive assistance in the revitalization of the downtown area through Local Foods, Local Places grant funding.
Gorrell revealed that he heard around this grant opportunity from Amanda Workman, whom he works with in his Vista program.
“She had asked me to look into it,” he shared. “I liked the potential it had to help Grafton out, so I applied.”
Gorrell has recently been notified that Grafton has been selected as a semi-finalist for a chance to receive grant funding.
Local Foods, Local Places is a program through the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose mission is to protect human health and the environment.
With more and more towns and communities taking interest in improving and strengthening their developmental growth of local food systems, while reinvesting in downtown areas and small neighborhoods, came the birth of the Local Foods, Local Places Program.
This program works to help communities create action plans that will chart the course for using local foods to help meet a broad range of the town’s goals. According to www.epa.com/smartgrowth/local-foods-local-places-toolkit, the program and its predecessor, Livable Communities in Appalachia, has worked with more than 80 communities since 2014.
The Local Foods, Local Places Toolkit is meant to help communities interested in undertaking a similar process to develop their own plans for setting and achieving local food and revitalization goals.
Upon sharing the news of Grafton being selected as a semi-finalist, Melissa Kramer, from the Office of Sustainable Communities with the EPA disclosed that 25-50 percent of the semi-finalists will ultimately revive technical assistance through the program, depending on levels of funding.
“We will choose among applications based on their application form and an interview that is to be conducted with the key partners in each community,” she explained.
Kramer went on to point out, that as the point of contact person for the program, Gorrell will be responsible for participating in the semi-finalist interview, identifying and coordinating a local steering committee of three to six people, who are committed to participating in three one-hour planning calls, a one-and-a-half-hour day workshop and three one-hour follow up calls with a consultant team, in addition to coordinating local meetings as necessary.
Gorrell will also be in charge of arranging at least one meeting of the local steering committee to complete a self-assessment that will help the consultant team better prepare for and tailor the community workshop to meet your needs, securing a venue for the workshop, sending out invitations for the workshop and tracking responses and championing efforts to implement the plan developed at the workshop.
During the application process he was required answer the following about Grafton; What is the project’s geographic? What is the area’s demographic makeup and economic condition? What challenges does your community face around downtown or neighborhood revitalization? What actions has your community taken so far to overcome these challenges? How do you propose to use local foods as a strategy to help address some of these challenges? How would a community workshop through Local Foods, Local Places help you achieve your goals? What will be the environmental benefits of achieving your goals? What other partners will be involved in planning and implementing your action plan, such as public agencies and institutions, non- governmental organizations, foundations, businesses, and agricultural producers? Will elected officials be supportive? What assurances can you make that you will implement the action plan that our technical assistance team will help you develop?
Gorrell covered all of the questions asked, explaining in great detail the greatest challenge Grafton is currently facing; vacant, dilapidated building in and around the downtown area.
“Many of the buildings have been empty for years and are beyond repair,” he wrote. “For those buildings that are salvageable, finding owners that are willing to negotiate on the price of the building is near impossible. The city has taken steps to purchase several of the buildings along Main Street, but many of those buildings are still standing empty or are simply being used as storage space.”
He continued on exlpaing the steps that members of the community has taken to overcome these challenges, which included the 2014 participation of the Turn This Town Around initiative, ultimately leading Grafton down a path of community engagement and projects, resulting in the creation of All Aboard Grafton.
According to Gorrell, one of the biggest successes the community accomplished through Turn This Town Around was the purchase of the old CSX Freight Station, which has sat empty for years in the downtown area.
“The City, through the assistance of the WV Hub, the WVU Brownfields Assistance Center and Thrasher Engineering, completed the necessary environmental studies, created a draft design for the building and negotiated the sale with CSX. The city and community vision for the building is hopes of breathing life back into the structure to establish a place for a year-round farmers market, community events, weddings, etc. The project team would also like to include a kitchen area where healthy cooking classes could be offered, including classes on how to preserve food in a number of ways with the help of the WVU Extension Services,” he stated.
Although Grafton has an existing farmers market that sets up every Wednesday afternoon next to the Mother’s Day Shrine, All Aboard Grafton sees the next step in market’s vision is to have a permanent year- round market for the community and surrounding areas.
Additionally, the community has started and participated in a variety of other events/programs including Try This WV, Taylor County Adventure Club and Energizing Entrepreneurial Communities.
“A community workshop through Local Foods, Local Places would help the community understand the steps necessary to open a year-round, downtown market,” Gorrell expressed. “It will help continue in the community’s path to revitalizing the downtown area, as well as create an opportunity for community members to have access to locally sourced foods all year round. I am really excited to work with Amanda on this, and to have a chance to bring this opportunity to Grafton.”