The training center is the flagship of the Green Wheeling
Initiative garden efforts. The gardens are located in the New Vrindaban community
and aim to teach the basics of organic agriculture. It does this on three
levels: backyard gardening, market gardening, and mini-farming on five acres or
less. Workshops are held throughout the growing season in addition to an
Terry Sheldon is the project director. He says the training
center began in 1999 and the organic produce they grow reaches many people.
“The produce from that area is distributed not only in New
Vrindaban community, but is charitably distributed by and large to soup
kitchens throughout Wheeling and food pantries in the Wheeling/Moundsville
There are two gardens that make up the Small Farm Training
Center. Both are located next to the Palace of Gold in Marshall County.
“We’re standing in what is known as the teaching garden
which is one of the two major growing sites for organic production in New
“There are thirty raised beds here,” Sheldon continues. “Each
bed has a different type of production in it. This one if the Tromboncino Squash.
It’s a kind of squash something like zucchini that’s not subjective to the
attack of squash bug or vine borer which most zucchini around here is. After a
short time trying to grow [zucchini] people give up.”
Another bed contains three types of mint: chocolate, lemon
balm, and traditional. They also grow a bed of lettuce, nettle, comfrey, kale.
Some things are grown to eat, some for medicinal uses, all are used to teach
“This is fava bean,” Sheldon says. “Fava bean is the bean of
Europe. For centuries and centuries it was what they
called the bean of the Byzantine and Roman Empire. It is to the legume in bean
family what corn is to grain. Pre-industrial agriculture is very easy to
harvest, very high in protein, very easy to grow. It’s something that we’re—in
terms of a community finding and stabilizing its own food supply—it’s a food
stuff that we’re looking forward to as one of our staples.”
Because the Small Farm Training Center is located with in a
religious community, their growing methods are steeped in spiritual ideology
based in ancient Vedic traditions. Sheldon pauses our tour to give a
mini-workshop to a group of Indian devotees who traveled from Bloomington,
Indiana, to tour the Palace
of Gold and the surrounding gardens.
“The actually fact is, in the material world, there is no
such thing as sustainability in the truest sense of the word, because it’s a
temporary place. So if you can teach sustainability based on the existence of
the soul and the existence of our dependence on god—that is real
Sheldon’s tour includes a walk-though the second of the
training center’s gardens: the Garden of Seven Gates.
“The reason for that name is that there are actually seven,
twenty-foot-wide, gated entrances surrounding a six-acre of what has become
very fertile, productive, organic growing site which was formally an abandoned,
abused pasturing ground that had been basically farmed to death for 150 years.”
The garden is surrounded by an eight-foot fence to protect
it from the 100-deer per square mile that live in Marshall County. Sheldon says
it was built with future generations in mind.
“My vision for it is that some day there will be residencies
on the edge of it because there will be an economy and a culture that’s
land-based. They will be an agrarian kind of people. So I wanted to create
facility in a very futuristic way.”
The garden’s mission is to restore nutrients and
productivity to the soil; to create and sustain community.
“When you use bio-intensive techniques and you understand
that your duty is to bring fertility back up again, you can grow enormous
amounts of food on small acreage.
In this larger production garden, they grow fava beans, mustard
greens, buckwheat, swiss chard, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, brussels spouts,
okra, peppers, and beans. Sheldon says their growing philosophies are guided by
and aim to tackle larger societal problems.
“We identify the food problem in America as not just a
quantitative problem, but more of a qualitative problem. The quality of what
people are eating is denatured. Even if they have a pantry full of food, most
of it is grown in soils that are not nutrient-dense. So in order to get a
healthy population thinking about the value of food, you have to show an example.
And that’s really what the Small Farm Training Center does. It teaches by
example and it really addresses the looming issue of food insecurity.”
Charitable donations and education provided through
the training center are changing the menu in local soup kitchens where for
several months a year Swiss Chard has become known as West Virginia Spinach.