Garden vision comes true for McDowell County food bank

Contact: Melissa Stewart
(304) 532-1670
July 12, 2013
Garden vision comes true for McDowell County food bank
KIMBALL, W.Va. – Two things are guaranteed when visiting Linda McKinney at the Five Loaves and Two Fishes Food Bank in McDowell County. You will walk away with a full stomach and a teary eye. Now, thanks to a recent partnership with West Virginia State University (WVSU) Extension Service, you might also get a fresh strawberry as well.

McKinney recently teamed with WVSU Extension Service to construct an adaptive garden on the food bank’s property, where the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor are already evident. Using raised beds, hydroponic tower systems and containers, crops such as tomatoes, lettuce, beans, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and small fruits have been planted and will soon be ready for harvest.

It is a dream McKinney and her husband, Bob, have had since taking over the food bank, which also provides clothing and hygiene items to those in need. McKinney expresses her vision for a garden in the new documentary, “Hollow,” which debuted in June.

“When I stepped out of the car and saw all that land, I looked at Bob and I said, ‘there will be a garden there one day,’” she says in the film, which profiles McDowell County’s history and residents in an online, interactive platform.

Now that her dream has become a reality, McKinney plans to use the produce to supplement the items coming into the food bank, giving fresher alternatives to those in need.

Founded by a faith-based organization in 1997, the McKinneys received the keys to the facility in 2009 and have kept the same principles in place during their management. Inventory and operational support come from faith-based entities and private donations. Manual help comes from sources such as Build It Up West Virginia, which provides educational work experience for disengaged youth. Currently, four local teens work with the McKinneys, processing donations, stocking shelves and maintaining the facility.

“The potential at the facility is tremendous, especially outside,” said Melissa Stewart, WVSU extension specialist. “We’ve set up a greenhouse and pergolas, created a garden oasis for the local fishermen who fish nearby, and are exploring multiple interactive outdoor opportunities.”

WVSU Extension Service is exploring avenues to increase garden space, install outdoor demonstration areas and place extension educators onsite fulltime. It is a vision perfectly in line with McKinney’s own.

“I want this place to become a one-stop shop for the community,” she said. Ideas include expanding the current exercise classes and hosting educational garden workshops. The space, according to McKinney, is ripe for educational opportunities. “The garden has already brought questions from the community,” she said. “People want to know what’s growing in these containers or what the tower garden system is all about. And they want to buy my plants!”

For now, produce grown in the garden is strictly for use in the food bank. As the project develops, however, McKinney and Stewart see potential for a produce stand, outdoor café or farmers market.

Five Loaves and Two Fishes Food Bank is located along Route 52 in Kimball. See Linda McKinney’s profile in “Hollow” at

West Virginia State University is a public, land grant, historically black university, which has evolved into a fully accessible, racially integrated, and multigenerational institution, located in Institute, W.Va. As a “living laboratory of human relations,” the university is a community of students, staff, and faculty committed to academic growth, service and preservation of the racial and cultural diversity of the institution. Its mission is to meet the higher education and economic development needs of the state and region through innovative teaching and applied research.
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