WVU Nursing, Extension partnership to support community garden efforts in Mercer County

MCCOMAS, W.Va. — Kristen Goins’ connection to McComas, a small coal camp in Mercer County in southern West Virginia, runs deep. Her grandfather and great-grandfather were both miners, working long hours in dangerous conditions and receiving pay in company scrip.

“In my lifetime, the mines are left as memories. The miners are mostly forgotten. But remnants of their homes, their stories, the stables, and their lives remain hidden in overgrowth,” Goins said.

Many of the people who still reside in McComas live below the poverty line, and the area is largely disconnected from the rest of the state, both geographically and technologically, with limited cell service and no high-speed internet available. Some community members must choose between buying groceries or paying their bills, so affordable food options are often preferable to seeking foods with good nutritional value.

Knowing the challenges of the area as a community insider, Goins has spearheaded an initiative in McComas to revitalize the coal camp. She reached out to WVU Extension and the WVU School of Nursing to help make her dream become a reality.

As part of the initiative, Goins has established a community garden to help alleviate the financial burden of groceries, all while providing access to nutritious food. She believes the community garden will help provide a sense of meaning and peace, and foster a stronger sense of community. To support the effort, the WVU School of Nursing and the WVU Mercer County Extension Office partnered to provide supplies needed to build the community garden, located at the Crane Creek Pentecostal Holiness Church.

Community members came together to build the gardens and plant the first crop. Other community members volunteered their time in caring for the plants throughout the remainder of the summer months. Plans are in place to plant a fall garden as well as a late fall planting of flower bulbs to be ready for a spring showing.

“We plan to grow cool-weather crops this fall, once the summer vegetables are done. That way, we can keep this garden feeding our community throughout most of the year,” said Jennifer Graham, Health Educator — Mercer County, WVU Extension Family Nutrition Program.

“The WVU School of Nursing Office of Community Engagement is dedicated to forming reciprocal partnerships within rural parts of West Virginia,” said Dr. Angel Smothers, WVU School of Nursing Associate Dean for Community Engagement and McComas native.

The WVU School of Nursing is also currently training a nurse to serve in the McComas community as part of the Faith Community Nursing initiative, which works to improve health outcomes in rural areas through nurse-led care and community partnerships.

The Mercer County community garden would not be possible without funds from the WVU Mercer County Extension Office and a donation from Natalie and Wesley Bush to Faith Community Nursing. The Bush family contribution was awarded via the WVU Foundation, a non-profit organization that receives and administers donations on behalf of the University.

If you are interested in learning more about the faith community nursing program and available scholarships, please reach out to Dr. Angel Smothers Also, anyone interested in learning more about building programs within coal camps or rural settings is also encouraged to reach out.