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Green for Greens

Green for Greens

Grants for growing: It takes more than compost to turn a former parking lot into a sustainable community garden. It takes green dollar bills and a systematic change to make a former parking lot a community garden. A new garden at the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services is funded by a PedNet grant, but it is designed to keep running even when the money runs out.
Mike Burden is looking forward to eating sweet potatoes he grew himself this fall, but he’s not tilling his own land. He’s going to be growing the space-devouring, nutritious crop in a new community garden going in next to the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services.
“I want to plant sweet potatoes because that’s what I like to eat,” Burden said. But he won’t just be gardening there. He’s also helping to get Columbia’s newest community garden started as a co-leader of the project, and he’s charged with solving any potential problems to make sure the garden stays a friendly place to grow produce.
This adds another neighborhood community garden to the 10 listed on the website of the Community Garden Coalition, a volunteer-run nonprofit that provides support, supplies and garden plots to gardeners. The CGC is funded by $5,000 to $7,000 a year from the city and county, which it uses to provide tools, hoses, seeds, transplants, water and insurance for properties that require it, according to Bill McKelvey, president of CGC. The City of Columbia Landfill also provides tons of compost for the gardens, a considerable donation, he added.
There are another 12 affiliated gardens listed at cgc.missouri.org/gardens.
The city’s community gardens provide food for roughly 1,000 people, estimated McKelvey, but the main attraction is camaraderie, with gardeners sharing tips, information and tools and techniques.
In some ways, this newest garden is much like the others, planted in otherwise unused ground. In fact, part of this one will be on the former parking lot of Nowell’s grocery, which used to occupy the building that now houses the health department.
But this community garden is being developed using funds from the PedNet Coalition Inc., the local organization charged with administering the Unite 4 Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative, a four-year, $400,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation policy-focused grant project. Of that amount, approximately $4,000 is earmarked for developing this garden, but the funds are not going to simply get it growing; the money is being spent to make sure it keeps growing long term.
“This is not a program grant,” said Sam Robinson, director of PedNet’s Healthy Communities Initiative, which is funded by the RWJF grant. Instead, he said, the grant is designed to implement a short-term program to create long-term policy. As Robinson explained, the funds are designed to bring together community members and stakeholders to create a policy change that will ensure the project continues even after the money runs out.
In this case, the project involved developing a land-use agreement to create a way for the city of Columbia to allow community members to use city property to garden.
Creating such an agreement is complex, said Maureen Coy, a Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services health educator who was involved in the project. This led the group that included the health department, the Community Garden Coalition and community members to hire the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, a local nonprofit dedicated to education about sustainable urban farming, to help create the land-use agreement, develop a landscaping plan and plant fruit and berry plants in the future.
Coy is also looking well beyond this year at the garden.
“This is the pilot,” Coy said, adding, “Now that a model is in place, perhaps other public land, including that operated by the city Parks and Recreation Department, will be used to grow food.”
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