Dig, plant and harvest some green-money that is

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By Denyse Clark, Reporter

Gloria Kellerhals is looking to grow Chester County's economy through “acres of opportunity,” she said Tuesday at a Chester Rotary Club meeting. Kellerhals was the invited guest for the weekly gathering of local Rotarians at the Summit Restaurant. She addressed a crowd of about 30 on the possibility of jump starting a sluggish economy in Chester County by putting people to work using their own land resources.
“In Chester County there are 111,828 acres of farmland which include 35 percent woodland, 33 percent pasture land, 26 percent cropland and five percent other,” Kellerhals said.
Kellerhals presented a plan for sustainable agriculture in Chester which is “economically sound, environmentally safe and socially responsible,” she said.
She then answered the question she expected to surface in the minds of local residents, “Why Chester?”
“Chester has the land resources and a conducive climate,” Kellerhals said. “We're in a strategic location to serve a region-wide demand and Chester has rural character and an agriculture heritage.”  
There were 3,467 manufacturing jobs lost in Chester County between 2004-2009, Kellerhals said. The county's current unemployment rate of 17.3 percent (from Dec. 2010 data) dwarfs the state and national rate of about nine percent. Kellerhals' proposed project, which she fondly refers to as “Gloria's Dream” would officially be called, "The Chester County Agriculture Economic Development Center." It would be housed at the old McKeown Building which currently is boarded up behind city hall. Design plans for the renovated McKeown Building would include a Chester County Artisans and Farmers Market with a pavilion of 20 vendor stalls, a food manufacturing kitchen, a gathering space and additional rentable space, Kellerhals said. There would also be a demonstration garden at the site.
“There are 113 farmers' markets in the state right now,” Kellerhals said. “Chester will boost that number.”
The economic possibility this local farmers' market could provide is up to $994,000 from federal assistance food programs such as SNAP, Kellerhals said. Currently, about $1 million per month comes into the county for food assistance through federal aid, Kellerhals said. It is her desire to retain just ten percent of that money for the county, she added. There are also benefits the proposed farmers' market could bring to the city.
“There are studies that show if you have this type activity downtown, it spills over into other businesses,” Kellerhals said.
This proposed plan would require partnerships with local individuals and even the local school system, Kellerhals said. It's vitally important to get youths involved to teach them about the nutritional value of growing their own crops, she added. Other potential partners include Clemson University, the City of Chester, the local Historical Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.
With the success of this joint venture, Chester could produce enough food to feed, “Charlanta,” the region from Charlotte to Atlanta,  Kellerhals said. The target audience for this project is small farmers, farmers wanting a change and unemployed landowners who own two to ten acres of land, Kellerhals said. This is a job creation program, Kellerhals asserted.
“If you've got dirt, we can show you how to do it,” she said. “We're looking for people with a sincere interest.”
For more information, contact Kellerhals at 581-3100.