There’s almost nothing more satisfying than a big basket overflowing with juicy red tomatoes, crispy lettuce, crunchy carrots, fragrant herbs, perky peppers and fresh, golden corn on the cob, all grown by your own labor and picked at the peak of perfection.
Residents all over Columbia are tasting satisfaction as they start their own gardens, with help from the Community Garden Coalition of Columbia.
The Community Garden Coalition (CGC) is a volunteer organization that helps people in neighborhoods to grow their own fruits and vegetables in communal gardening plots. They may help find an available garden space, teach residents how to garden, or provide tools and seeds to get gardeners started. They encourage Columbians to grow their own food—not only to help them get the nutrition they need to be healthy but also for the sense of pride and accomplishment gardening can provide.
Initially, the CGC formed in 1983 to help lower-income families supplement their diets and get the nutrition they needed. The mission expanded to include helping people in wheelchairs to garden, by creating raised garden beds. In recent years, it has expanded again—into helping provide proper nutrition for children.
Bill McKelvey is involved with CGC as both a board member and a garden mentor. “We primarily help groups start gardens,” explains McKelvey.
“We try to provide organizational support to get the gardens going and to coordinate activities. In the spring, we rent a dump truck and make lots of trips to get compost and haul it to all the gardens. We have volunteers who till the gardens in spring to get them ready for planting.” The group donates gardening tools for each community garden, pays for water, and collects and distributes seeds donated by local businesses.
CGC has organized about a dozen gardens throughout Columbia. Each is divided into individual and family plots, and each has come about through a blend of community and private efforts.
A new garden on St. Joseph Street was started last year as a partnership between the Boone County Family Resources Agency and neighboring families. The agency provided the land and materials for wheelchairaccessible raised beds, and CGC provided the labor to build them. Now, active gardeners are harvesting the rewards of this partnership.
The garden on Lyon Street is operated by CARE (Career Awareness Related Experience), a Columbia program that provides employment for at-risk youth. As part of the CARE garden program, teens work at the garden twice a week, learning a variety of skills. “The Community Garden Coalition donated seeds and plants,” says Catherine Gleason, CARE garden coordinator.
“They’ve been so helpful with their advice and expertise. Lea Langdon never runs out of patience. She’s always sincere and interested.
I feel like they are partners with us, helping us to succeed. The neighbors have been great, too.
They come over and visit with us.” On Fridays, the teens usually harvest enough produce to donate to Oak Towers and have enough extras to take some home for their own meals.
The teens also go to a local organic farm to help. The farmer provides an acre for the youths to grow sweet potatoes and cabbage. All the produce grown by the CARE teens is donated to Central Missouri Food Bank. “It’s a great program because the kids learn organic growing methods, healthy eating, and how to care for the land—such as using beneficial insects and worm-composting,” explains Gleason.
The community garden on Claudell Lane is the only land that the CGC actually owns. More than 25 families garden on this plot. Several have been gardening here every year since the community garden was established.
The rest of the gardens are located on land that is either lent or rented. One of the more established gardens, on North 9th Street, was started in 1986, while other gardens were establishedat Paquin Towers in 2000 and at Oak Towers in 2001. The Gardens on West Ash Street and at Broadway Christian Church are newer.
So is the garden on Windsor Street, and while three-fourths of the land at the Windsor location is gardened by individuals, the rest is gardened for donations to the food bank.
“Most of our funding comes from a Community Services Grant, but we also have a number of individuals who donate to the program,” says McKelvey. “We also hold an annual garage sale and have a Shakespeare’s Pizza night, where CGC receives 15 percent of [proceeds from] any pizza purchases that night.”
With all that great produce, gardeners have come up with some delicious recipes. CGC sells its own cookbook, which is available for $5, plus postage, by contacting CGC at [email protected].
McKelvey is glad to volunteer for a program that does so much for the community. “It teaches people on many levels. It teaches them to work together, to learn to survive, and teaches a valuable skill they can use the rest of their lives.”
To make a donation, send a check to CGC at P.O. Box 7051, Columbia, MO, 65205. For more information, visit cgc.missouri.org