New Beginnings

By Billy Polansky

For most people Rusk Rehabilitation Center is just another brick building on the Business Loop. Although if you’ve had a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or spinal cord injury, Rusk will turn your life back around. I visited Rusk on a cloudy Friday afternoon to visit with some of their therapists and patients who use Rusk’s Therapy Garden. I heard that the staff were using this garden quite a bit with their patients so I wanted to stop by and see it for myself. In Rusk’s courtyard I met with Nicole Jacomb an occupational therapist and Sylvester Franklin Jr., a spinal cord-injury patient. Franklin immediately expressed his gratitude for all of the staff and Rusk and told me “Rusk is my new beginning”. A few months back he was in an accident that had him in a bed at the University Hospital for two months, then he came to Rusk where he has been for the last six weeks. Before his accident he was athletic, he went to the gym, played football, and swam at the pool. As you can imagine, the last few months have difficult for Franklin who is now in a wheelchair.

Franklin told me it can be hard to find the motivation to get out of bed some days, but the therapy garden keeps him moving on the bad days. He went on to say that the garden and the staff at Rusk have taught him patience. Now that he has been upgraded to a power chair, Sylvester spends as much time as he can outside and in the garden. “It gets depressing in there. As soon as I’m done in the gym or with an activity, I fly outside to get a piece of the sun.” Sylvester said with a chuckle. Another patient, Shelly Jackson,  joined us in the courtyard, she agreed, “For me it’s the sunshine, it’s just fun to get out, I love sitting here and looking at the flowers”.

Jacomb gets her patients out of their room, and out of the hospital as often as she can “When the patients are outside, they really open up more than they would in their room.” The therapy garden is just another tool that she can use to engage patients and get them to do their occupational therapy exercises. Rusk’s courtyard has gardens in ground, in pots, and raised at various heights where patients can sit, squat, kneel, or stand. The variation in garden types can help patients who require a wheelchair or walker to practice managing their new device. “They push you hard, and will find all kinds of different ways to get you to do your exercises” said Franklin. Jackson is rebuilding her muscles to use a new prosthetic leg. She practices standing by using a garden bed raised four feet from the ground.

Work in the gardens can help build hand strength or fine motor skills when patients squeeze a hose nozzle, pull weeds, or plant small seeds. Nicole reminisced about a former patient who was a retired farmer. One day they were harvesting sweet potatoes and she couldn’t get him to come back inside, he wasn’t going to stop until the job was done, “I couldn’t get him to do the exercises in the gym but out here he was doing them without even knowing it”.

Franklin said that when his mom comes to visit him, they sit out in the garden and “she gets this smile on her face, I know she’s thinking of when she was younger and the time she spent with her family in the garden”. This courtyard and therapy garden brings people together and sparks conversations. It gets patients out of their rooms and lets them soak in some Vitamin D. The garden motivates, it isn’t just the physical exercise that benefits the patients, but to quote Franklin “it’s the mental and the physical”.

To me Rusk is a place of hope, it is a hospital where everyone knows they get to go home. Rusk is a place where people are entering a new chapter of their life, there are many uncertainties and frustrations, but there is a community of doctors, therapists, and patients who support and inspire each other.  Shelly told me “When I am out here it gets me excited for my own garden at home.” Thinking of the future, Franklin said, “I’m just ready for phase two.” I asked him what that meant and he nodded his head saying “It is when I start learning how to walk again.”

Two years ago Rusk’s Director of Therapy, Tori Sisson and Controller, Jeff Reese came up with the idea for a therapy garden. That fall the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture met with Jeff and Tori and helped start the Therapy Garden in the hospital’s courtyard. Reese said that since the garden was added and the landscaping improved, the courtyard has seen more people are spending time outside, “even staff on their lunch breaks”.


Shelly Jackson (right) told me “I love getting my hands in the dirt. The first time we came out here, they asked me if I wanted gloves, I said ‘NOPE’”


Sylvester Franklin Jr. admires herbs he planted in the Rusk Therapy Garden.


Building Gardeners, not just Gardens, with CCUA’s Opportunity Gardens Program

All winter long, gardeners dream of fresh spinach, carrots, and tomatoes…and when the spring finally comes around they are ready to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty!  This is especially true of new gardeners who are experiencing it all for the very first time.

We love helping people learn about growing their own food, and are happy to report that CCUA’s Opportunity Gardens Program is off to its biggest year yet.  Volunteers and the Opportunity Gardens crew have installed 29 brand new gardens so far, and there are more to come.  Our new gardeners are excited to learn and can’t wait to get growing!



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.