May 13, 2017 | Park Ferguson
The story of the Wayne County Farmers Cooperative providing lettuce to the schools has been well documented. Thanks to our farmers, our students will enjoy fresh, healthy, nutritious lettuce in salads and sandwiches for the remainder of the school year.
I want to elaborate on a lesser-known component of this story, an essential aspect that involves many people and one incredible journey.
Last fall, Lacy and I received a phone call notifying us that our non-profit organization, Access WV had been awarded a $10,000 grant courtesy of CSX and The Conservation Fund. This came as a complete surprise to us, as we had not applied for any grants at the time.
Upon doing some research we learned our dear friend Megan, a professor of nutrition and dietetics at West Virginia University had instructed a graduate assistant to apply for us. We were now the proud recipients of the CSX Transporting Healthy Food Grant.
This was welcome information as the Wayne County Farmers Coop was still a budding organization and we had been looking at arranging farm to school activities and planning other markets. Upon reading more information on the grant we decided we would use the funds to purchase a refrigerated trailer or truck.
The funding rolled out in February and the hunt for our mobile cold storage unit began. A few opportunities arose. Some were too far away. Some were too expensive. Some seemed insufficient. As the deadline to utilize grant funds and the delivery date of our farm to school lettuce simultaneously drew near a slight panic set in.
Finally during a coop board meeting a board member mentioned he had a neighbor who had an old trailer he was willing to sell. We arranged for a meeting and I grabbed the big truck and the checkbook and made the journey to Crum.
When I laid eyes on the trailer something just felt right. I asked some questions, poked around and wrote the check. Access WV was now the owner of a trailer that we would convert to a cold trailer. Admittedly we had no idea how this conversion was going to happen.
Things were going great. There I was, a proud new owner, riding a little higher than usual in the big truck. Windows rolled down on a warm spring evening with the radio on. Life was good. Real good. Cruising up to the peak of a small hill near Fort Gay on Route 52 the trailer popped off the ball and slammed into the back of the truck. I skidded over to the side of the road and caught my breath, then hopped out to examine the damage.
For what had happened, it wasn’t too bad. Two gentlemen who had been behind me immediately pulled over to make sure I was ok. They helped me put the trailer back on the hitch. We determined that the trailer must have not been locked to the ball. After some discussion we realized we were old family friends. The elder was a friend of my dad and his son had been in a scholarship program with my sister.
Later on Route 37 the trailer came off again. Same slam into the bumper of the truck, same scary situation. The sound alarmed the residents of the home and out came two friends of mine from high school. They helped put the trailer back on and it was then that we realized the trailer hitch had the wrong size ball for the trailer. By this time it was dark. I was insanely stressed. I decided to haul the trailer the rest of the way very, very slowly and cautiously (admittedly probably not the smartest thing to do but I did it).
After finally finding someone who was able to outfit the trailer for refrigeration and getting a new trailer hitch, I hauled it over to Lincoln County for its conversion. I picked it up after a few weeks and let me tell you, it looks absolutely amazing!
When I finally got the trailer to the coop headquarters in Dunlow, we had just a few finishing touches to make with the electrical wiring and connecting the coolbot – a machine that causes the mounted air conditioning unit to run continuously and cool the insulated space inside the trailer. Fortunately, we have some handy people in the coop who fixed it up easily.
Over that weekend the romaine lettuce was harvested, packaged and put into cold storage in the trailer. It set sail for every single school in Wayne County on Monday. After several successful deliveries of beautiful Wayne County grown romaine, the coop’s delivery driver heard a loud bang as he was going down the road. One of the old tires on the trailer had blown.
Fortunately he only had four schools remaining and was able to deliver the produce with his pickup truck. My dad and I headed to Genoa to address the tire. Bear in mind this trailer has a brand new generator mounted on the front and a brand new AC unit. Leaving it sitting overnight was not an option. It was already well into the afternoon and I was very anxious about getting everything done before dark.
We broke loose the lugs and squeezed them from their rusty bolts, finally setting the old busted tire free. We then began running through options of where we could get a new tire. We figured since it was a trailer tire we would likely end up running to Huntington or at the very least to Lavalette.
As we were cruising down 152, the flicker of light from the open sign of Maynard’s Towing and Preown caught my eye. We turned around and pulled in. We asked the guy working and he wasn’t sure if they had what we were looking for. We looked to the house across the street and out walks Senator Mark Maynard himself, who just happened to know where one spare trailer tire was.
Senator Maynard helped hammer the bent rim back into shape and removed the old tire, and attached and inflated the new one. We talked cars, state parks and politics and he insisted on donating his services to the cause.
After putting on the new tire we safely brought the trailer home. It is now sitting awaiting four brand new tires before its next adventure.
What’s the moral of this story? I am still not sure, but here are some economics. A $10,000 grant has paid a resident of Crum for the trailer. The supplies for the trailer and the new ball were all purchased from local hardware stores. It paid a local carpenter to make the trailer. A local family farm grew and sold 1,320 heads of lettuce to be consumed by every student in Wayne County. The sale of the lettuce helped pay a local resident to deliver the produce. Add four new tires form a local auto shop, one State Senator and many valuable lessons, experiences, smiling faces and wonderful people.
The sum is community. THAT is what this is all about!