If it’s not raining, we’re not training

Wednesday, July 13th, started with the boom of thunder. Staff and volunteers from CCUA, Lowes, United Way, the Mission Continues and the VA came together this dark, stormy morning with a vision of sunny, abundant days ahead.

This spring CCUA and the Columbia Housing Authority (CHA) were selected as the 2016 Lowes’ Heroes Project. The proposal was to build a garden and chicken coop at Patriot Place, Columbia’s newest apartment building for veterans.

Wednesday. The day to build the garden had come, the supplies were ready: lumber, soil, plants, mulch, benches and a chicken coop. Around 5:30am people began to congregate under the picnic shelter at Patriot Place, but then came the rain. The veterans present were reminded of a motto from the Army: “If it’s not raining, we’re not training.” Of course, on the day we’re building a garden at the bottom of an already-muddy hill, shifting winds bring us more precipitation.


A group of 30 community members shed lots of “sweat and mud” to build the Patriot Place garden.



Continue reading

Important Meetings to mark on your Calendar!

Please plan to stop in at one of the following three important meetings:

  • August 6th from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Columbia Farmers Market
  • August 10th from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Activities Recreation Center (ARC)
  • August 13th from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Columbia Farmers Market

We need your help! Please help provide feedback and direction to some exciting developments on our planned collaboration with the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, Columbia Farmers Market, and Sustainable Farms & Communities. Continue reading

Take a Field Trip to our Outdoor Classroom

We were excited to welcome Rock Bridge and Lee Elementary Schools last week. Both schools have very bright students and maybe some future farmers!

field trip lunch

Students began the day with a brief orientation of the farm from our Outdoor Classroom Manager, Lori. Excitement filled the air with the kids having recently finished standardized testing. It’s always fun to step out of school for a day and enjoy the May weather! There’s no better way to learn about sustainable living and where our food comes from than through good old fashioned hands on work. Students received an education on the plant life cycle and how to distinguish the different parts of a plant. Additionally, everyone harvested and washed spinach and got a brief experience on food preparation to create an orange zest vinaigrette to pair with lunch. Very little was left over! Continue reading

Seed Saving


Before seed companies existed, saving seeds for the following growing season was common place.  While no longer imperative, this time-practiced technique remains beneficial.  Saving seeds can bring access to rare vegetable varieties not commercially available such as international plants or locally suited varieties. Gardeners preserve genetic diversity through planting these varieties of plants, helping protect greater food security.  Most of all, saving seeds is free and makes you a fully self-sustaining gardener by connecting the circle of vegetable life year to year.


1. Wash seeds (if it does not dry on the plant).  Rinse in a strainer with lukewarm water.

2. Place seeds on a tray or screen in a warm, dark, and ventilated space.

3. Allow to sit for a few days to a few weeks, until dry.

4. Store seeds in an airtight glass container (plastic allows some moisture though).

5. Store containers in a cool and dry environment.

Larger seeds are easier to save than tiny ones making beans, peas, watermelon, okra, squash, and sunflowers good for beginners.  Some seeds like beans and peas dry on their vines, while gardeners must dry others like squash, peppers, and tomatoes.  Some vegetable plants like collards and lettuce are biennial, meaning they flower in the second year of their lives, so a gardener must protect these plants over winter to collect seed.

Fully dried seeds will not squish or bend and should crack if hit with a hammer. Constant temperature and moisture levels keeps seeds viable for longer, so keeping them in the back of your refrigerator is a good option.  Label your seeds with the year saved and the variety of vegetable.  It is best practice not to sow all the seeds from one variety at once, saving a handful of seeds in case of crop failure. Continue reading

Vote ‘Yes’ to boost Columbia’s parks, green spaces

A letter to the editor by CCUA Executive Director, Billy Polansky, (originally printed in The Missourian)

This Tuesday, Nov. 3 is Election Day, and I strongly encourage all Columbia residents to vote “Yes” to renew the one-eighth-cent park sales tax. The parks system here in Columbia is something that defines us. We have all made memories in Columbia’s parks — whether it is a wedding at the Riechmann Pavilion at Stephens Lake Park, riding bikes on the MKT Trail, basketball at the ARC, the Heritage Festival at Nifong Park, or spending time with your children on the playground at one of the dozens of neighborhood parks across the city. We are fortunate to have access to these great spaces that enrich our lives. Our parks provide us with space that brings people together to go fishing, let our dogs run, or have a birthday party. I can’t imagine life in Columbia without all of the great parks. The city is even beginning to show an interest in local foods, community gardening and urban agriculture.

The future of our city’s green spaces could feed and educate the community with community gardens, demonstration plots and fruit orchards. Our community is growing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2010 and 2014, Columbia’s total population added 8,071 people; that is a 7.4 percent increase (compare that to the national growth rate of 3.3 percent). As Columbia grows, we will need more park land and to improve the parks currently in use. That growth is exactly why we need to renew the park tax. All of the revenue generated from this tax is the city’s main source of funding for renovation, maintenance and acquisition of park land. Without this tax, picnic shelters and ball fields could not be renovated, new properties could not be acquired and new playgrounds could not be built. Best of all, voting “Yes” will not increase the current tax rate. We have been paying for this tax and benefiting from the revenue since 2000. Since 2000, the park sales tax has improved our community tremendously. Stephens Lake Park, Gans Creek Recreation Area, numerous neighborhood parks, restrooms, picnic pavilions, swimming pools and ball fields — all available to you and your family because of this tax. Your vote can help secure the future of our city’s parks, trails and gardens. Even though the Tuesday’s ballot only has this one item, it is an important one. Please, make sure you get out and vote “Yes” this Tuesday.

Opportunity Gardens Brings Gardening Home

“Spay… daaaa,” the little tyke claims, pointing at the large pile of compost we are moving together.  The three year old son of the Burmese family has a handheld toy truck for moving compost while I have a shovel and he has taken a moment’s break to survey the contents of the soil.IMG_1564

“Spae-dah!” he exclaims this time.  His voice surprised me since, even though I was talking while we filled wheelbarrows, we had only been communicating through pantomimes on account of not sharing the same language.  Sure enough, as I follow his finger, a big gangly spider is traversing a ridge in the compost.  Whether the little man was excited to use a word in my language or more about the comparison to his favorite superhero Spiderman, his parents Lahl and Zothan were glad to see their older son jumping right in to help build their Opportunity Garden.

Arriving at their house with supplies and tools to build a garden, Lahl jumped right in helping us unload and start to build raised bed gardens.  The family would not need much mentoring in gardening as they had grown food in Burma before they moved.  The family’s backyard patio was already teeming with seedlings and plants in small plastic cups and buckets, biding their time until they could be transplanted into a full garden.  Zothan and Lahl  have been gardening since they arrived in Columbia, MO, but living in the far northeast corner of the city, were spending time and gas every day getting to their community garden plot in order to grow and harvest food.  As can often be a deterrent in urban farming, the soil at their home was barely keeping grass alive, and certainly would not grow fruitful harvests.  They would benefit greatly from their opportunity garden, though, in feeding their family from their backyard instead of miles away.

Tony and Lahl

“I’m so happy our children will get to see our garden now,” expressed Zothan while we installed four raised beds and filled them with nutrient-rich compost.  Not only will these children grow up alongside edible plants, but the family’s garden space nearly doubled compared to their previous community garden.

Zothan kept an eye on all the garden installers, frequently bringing out juice and water to keep us quenched.  In typical Burmese fashion, she also had a massive scratch-made feast waiting for us once we finished installing the garden beds.  If their new garden flourishes, this family will be enjoying nourishing meals from their backyard for years to come.Zothan and Lahl

Clifford Serenades his Plants

An Entry by Opportunity Gardens AmeriCorps, Tony DeMarco

Clifford's Pickles

“I love my garden, yes I do,” Clifford assures us at least a dozen times.  And he has good reason to.

“Mm hmm, we’ve been eating lots of these.  My sister says they’re a little salty, but what do you think of them?” he inquires after letting us taste his homemade pickles.

“Well, they are pretty salty,” relates Trish, who oversees the Opportunity Garden Program at CCUA and set up this fall seed planting and mentoring meeting. “But they taste great.  These are huge, too and really crunchy.”

As we turn our attentions to the garden, “Ohh, my babies.  Yeah, my babies are growin’ real good.  You’ll see over in the other patch, they’re growin’ like crazy.  How did you grow so far?” Clifford asks one sweet potato that has meandered halfway across a bed and entwined itself through some chicken wire fencing.  As he starts to pull the vine out of the fencing to make space for fall seeds, Clifford exhorts, “Now don’t break on me here.  I’ll be gentle, but don’t break.”  One leaf snaps off the vine.  “Aughhooo!” he exclaims, “I didn’t mean to do that to you, sorry, sorry.  I hope you’ll be okay.”

“How did you learn to talk to your plants?” I ask Clifford.

“Oh, well because the plants like to hear music,” is his matter of fact response.  “So of course I sing in the garden.  They move around to the tunes.  Boo be doo da bowww.”

In Clifford’s garden when the wondrous prescience embedded in a seed meets his voice and gentle encouragement, good food grows.Clifford's Garden