When Café Appalachia in South Charleston was mandated by state government edict to suspend indoor food operations due to the COVID-19 outbreak last month, an idea was planted to make fruitful use of the down time that suddenly became available: social distancing gardening.
“We grow our own food,” Café Appalachia owner/founder Cheryl Wilson Laws explained last week in a telephone interview. When the COVID-19 closure led to layoffs of staff members, she said, “I saw it as an opportunity to do something I’d wanted to do: finish the outdoor eating space I wanted to expand on at the café.
“I’d received some money for my birthday — $2,000 as a fundraiser — and raised another $1,000 last week to finish it out,” she said.
Laws had envisioned a makeover of the back area of the café’s property, adding flowers, fig trees, herbs and other growing items in and around a section known as Nan’s Garden, in honor of South Charleston City Council member Kathleen Walker’s late mother, Nancy Fox, who was known as “Nan” by her grandchildren.
“We got rid of all the grass space and made private seating areas,” Laws said. “We planted grasses and flowers. There’s an area of wildflowers we’re going to cut and sell at the market.
“It’s to create a seating space where people can eat among the food itself. You can look down and there’s a tomato plant and then see a tomato on your plate. It’s a way to connect people to their food source.
“Whatever is left,” she said, “we will sell at the farmers market, and the women in our ReIntegr8 program will also be marketing it to local restaurants to purchase.”
Laws said the onsite garden generates “tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, carrots, lettuce, kale, spinach — anything you’d find in a salad.”
She noted that Pollen8, a nonprofit entity affiliated with the café, is preparing to launch Market@the Mound, an open-air market. Market@theMound is scheduled to open on June 20, should the state’s current health and safety strictures be lifted by then. If so, she said, their garden products will be offered there along with other wares by local farmers and artisans.
She added that other produce from the garden is canned and frozen for future meals at Café Appalachia.
The café expanded its growing capabilities recently by partnering with Thomas Health Systems. The café gardeners have taken over maintenance of 16 raised beds at the Thomas Memorial Hospital location, expanding the planting capabilities from the eight beds at Café Appalachia to 24 beds.
Pam Ranson Moss and her husband, Kelly, owners of Apex Pipeline in Nitro, donated the compost for the entire project. The Mosses supplied 75 bags of organic compost and grew all of the seedlings planted in the gardens. The couple also donated 30 tomato and pepper cages for the gardens.
“Pam and Kelly have been a godsend, really,” Laws said.
She said, in the past, the women from Recovery Point in their ReIntegr8 program have maintained the garden, but they are quarantined currently, so men from Recovery U have stepped in in their absence to continue the project. Recovery U is a curriculum-based, long-term recovery home for transitioning men with substance use disorder and other co-occurring issues.
“A friend of mine works at Recovery U in St. Albans,” said Laws, “and she told me they’ve been quarantined together and could use some fresh air.
“We were going to do a garden series with the public until the COVID-19 [crisis] killed that project. So, instead, we decided to do social distance gardening. They’ve been coming for the last two or three weeks. They’ve helped me get the beds ready. They’ve shoveled gravel and done a lot of work here,” she said.
The developing garden area will also include a rain barrel to collect water for the flora, an irrigation system made possible through grant funds by Try This, and a refreshed look to the pergola on the property.
About Café Appalachia
Café Appalachia is a social enterprise of Pollen8, a nonprofit organization founded by Laws that creates social programs to assist drug-impacted families through each stage of recovery.
The café opened in July 2018 at 206 D St. The 60-seat, farm-to-table coffee bar/restaurant offers breakfast and lunch to the general public and catering for local businesses or private events. The café was created to provide a venue for women in their ReIntegr8 program to receive job training, Laws said. Participants receive training in areas such as agriculture, culinary service, barista service, food handling and preparation and event planning.
Most of the vegetables and fruits served at Café Appalachia are grown on site.
Laws said she plans to reopen the restaurant as soon as possible after COVID-19 restrictions are rescinded and to add some new menu items when the doors open again to customers.
For more information about Café Appalachia, its operating status and the progress being made in the gardening and landscaping efforts, visit the café’s Facebook page.