How to Start a Farm From a Soccer Field

By Carrie Hargrove

In the summer of 2015 my boss (and husband), Billy Polansky, asked me if the name Clary Shy meant anything to me. “Who is she?” I asked. He was not referring to a person, but to the grassy field that lies just west of the ARC, near the Columbia Farmer’s Market. That grassy field is a city park: Clary Shy Park, named by Ron and Vicki (Clary) Shy, who generously donated the land to the city. Until then, I hadn’t even realized that it was a formalized city park, I guess I really never thought of it at all.

Fast forward to early 2018, and I think about Clary Shy multiple times a day. Clary Shy is the site which will be the home of the future agriculture park, and CCUA’s base of operations. There is a lot of excitement in starting a new farm; you can build on the lessons learned from setting up other systems, and through this sort of trial and error you can create a better system than the one that preceded it.  While this site has a history that is very different than that of the area that we currently grow on, we are making sure to put the hard won lessons of the past 9 years at our Urban Farm into consideration when designing this new agriculture park.

In some form or fashion, I have been associated with CCUA’s current Urban Farm since its inception in the winter of 2009. We designed the Urban Farm to mirror a small scale vegetable farm in Arkansas called Foundation Farm. The foundation (if you will) of this vegetable production system is establishing permanent beds that are not tilled, and that are separated by permanent grassy walkways.  Anyone who has ever been to the Urban Farm has seen this layout. This is a very labor intensive production model that relies heavily on regular and timely hand weeding, to keep the walkways from totally taking over the vegetable beds. Because of the massive amount of human labor involved in a system such as this, it is a rather unconventional farm layout. The permanent, no till beds have done splendidly at the Urban Farm, they have yielded many tons of produce in the past growing season alone, but this boon in harvest yields has not come without difficult lessons: most notably perennial weed control.

Something that we didn’t know when designing the Urban Farm is that certain perennial weeds flourish in a no till vegetable production system such as the one that we laid out. Bermuda grass and field bindweed have been two troublesome weeds that seem to spread every year no matter our diligence in weeding. The goal is to learn from this lesson and create a system at the new agriculture park that keeps weeds like these in check. Field bindweed and Bermuda grass already enjoy strongholds in the area of the park where we will be establishing a vegetable farm, and in order to quickly get them under control, we need to come out of the gate swinging.

For the past quarter century, Clary Shy park has been a grassy lot that serves as a practice sports field. The high amount of foot traffic has caused a considerable amount of compaction to the soil- something that will take years of diligence on our part to correct.  This is one of the reasons why these troublesome perennial weeds are present: they are hardy plants that can thrive in challenging environments such as compacted soils, hot, dry weather, and trampling from soccer practices. They also do well in clayey soil- which is the major type of soil present at this site.

In dreaming about the future agriculture park, we have identified 3 issues that we want our production system to address: perennial weed pressure, compacted soil, and clay soils with low organic matter.   Unfortunately, the current production system that we utilize at Urban Farm with the permanent, no till beds does not adequately address these issues, so we need to tweak our practices and come up with a new game plan.  Luckily, I do believe that we have crafted a production plan for the new agriculture park that addresses all of the known issues simultaneously.

Our goal is to move to the agriculture park fully in the spring of 2019. That gives us one growing season to do some important prep work on the soil in hopes of making the early years at the agriculture park that much smoother. This spring we will be doing some tractor work in order to prepare our first acre for planting. In 2018, we will be growing plants out at the agriculture park, just not food producing plants. This year, we are going to focus exclusively on intensely managed cover crops.

Cover crops are plants that will provide some sort of benefit to the soil and the food crops that are planted after it. In our case, we are choosing to plant a grass called sudangrass. We chose this cover crop because it has an extensive root system that will help break up soil compaction. Sudangrass is also a very large plant, it can grow several feet tall, and being a grass, it can also be planted very close together. This should provide deep shade for the perennial weeds that are shorter than the cover crop. Because the two perennial weeds that we want to get under control don’t tolerate shade, we are hoping that a year of growing sudangrass will weaken the stand of bindweed and bermudagrass present out there. We plan on featuring extensive cover cropping at the agriculture park at all times as a way to out-compete weeds, break up soil compaction, and add organic matter back into the soil. In 2019 and on, we plan on devoting half of all available vegetable production space to cover crops; as a way to improve the soil sustainably. Cover cropping will be key to our success in establishing a productive and lovely urban vegetable farm.

In addition to extensive use of cover crops, we plan on adding tons-actual tons- of compost over the area to kick start soil health. Way back in 2008, CCUA was created in a steamy pile of compost (with help from a grant that diverted food scraps to compost piles in community gardens around Columbia), and we have no intentions to stray from these roots. This spring, we will be looking for a group of excited volunteers to spread the first semi-truck load of compost over the field. We will repeat this process a couple of times during the summer and fall as well. In addition to volunteer workdays spreading compost over our new site, we will be doing many other capital improvements like installing fence, setting up an underground irrigation system, and putting up a greenhouse!

If there is something that I believe with all of my heart, it is that it takes a village to raise up an urban farm. So, just as we did when we created the first Urban Farm- we will be looking to our neighbors, family, and friends in Columbia to help us on this wild rollercoaster of urban farming. In 2017, we did a lot of planning about what the agriculture park will look like, and in 2018 we will start to put all of those plans in place- and we are looking to you to help us turn this soccer field into a glorious edible park.



When the Weather Outside is Frightful…

We busily plan for the next growing season to be more delightful!

by Tony Minnick

Oftentimes, friends of CCUA’s Urban Farm are perplexed in pondering, “What might farmers possibly have going on to fill their winter work weeks when the weather’s oh-so cold and the soil’s oh-so frozen solid?” To which I’ve often got a lot of answers to respond with, even if they’re relayed from the toasty, temperature-controlled confines of a farmer’s winter office. While the occasional opportunities present themselves to vacation, to spend more time with family and friends, and to throw on the ice skates for a little, all-too-rare Stephens Lake Park session, these winter weeks are more so filled with seed spreadsheet creation than surfing! We’re busily hunkered down, and we’re organizing, tidying, fixing the broken, and meeting together in discussion of this season’s successes and our next season’s expected improvements – and it’s fun!

Winter presented itself with killing frosts in the transition from October to November this fall, marking the end of annual plants’ cycles and the beginning of downtime dormancy for perennials (it becomes a great time to prune them!). Zinnias and marigolds could be seen shriveling to all but seeds, while perennial blackberries and asparagus browned out above ground, sending their shoot energies back down to become root energies. Annual-plant survivors include only the few, most-hardy veggies. At the Urban Farm these are Winter Bloomsdale Spinach and Evergreen Hardy White Green Onions. True to their titles, these tough cookies are planted as transplants each fall, ideally by mid-September, and overwinter through the sleet and snow with minimal season extension support to become our first harvests of spring. They offer welcome mid-Winter relief from office work and screen-staring, with the need for occasional weeding and the maintenance of floating row covers we use for added warmth and protection.

Prepping for winter

With the verdant abundance of summer growth comes a never-ending list of laborious tasks in maintaining vegetables’ health and beauty, and there’s much less time to get into the nitty gritty planning of crop rotations, seed and transplant quantities, harvest dates, and delivery dates. It is in taking caring of these tasks that we replace the winter doldrums with winter productivity. What crop varieties proved most successful last season? And in which succession of crops per grow space did we see highest yields, least pests, quickest crops to harvest? As urban gardeners, limited space meets limited time as the greatest barriers to producing more food for our homes and communities. We have to make most use of every square foot of green space we’ve got. We plan seeding and transplants dates with efficiency in mind, so that as soon as one full bed of lettuces is harvested, the tomatoes or peppers are ready and waiting to replace them. Whether you’re under the fluorescent tubes of a farmer’s winter office or under the covers reading by cell phone light, the colored pages of seed catalogs, rich in detail and the makings of any gardener’s dreams, are welcome reads in making this winter plan a summer reality.

Additionally, we take time to address the maintenance and tidying of our spaces and equipment. Dust the cobwebs and wipe down the germination tables. Time to put a little TLC into that dysfunctional lawnmower. And sharpen those hoes, harvest knives, and pruners!  And organize those sheds so your garden help can actually find the right tool for the job! And…whoops… forgot about that mouse trap there… And wow I’ve been looking for thisratchet piece for four months…

You get the picture. Maybe in greater detail than you desired.


Trees are bare now. And farms and gardens seem most restful. As busy as our routines can stay, anytime and all the time, it’s worthwhile to take a cue from nature in this season. Relax and listen. Sleep a little more. Live in your long underwear.

In our office, we take this time to gather for more meetings than ever, to touch base between our diverse projects and to put details to dreams for the upcoming year. We connect in these chilly times to strengthen our relationships and build systems of communication that we’ll depend on during the frenzy of plantings and weedings and harvests and potlucks in future warmth! Days are short this time of year, and they’re also numbered. Before buds break and weeds shoot forth, there’s plenty to do (and not do) to make the most of them!

Rooted and Rising, Another Perspective

By Matthew Dollan

In November 2017, the Opportunity Gardens team attended Rooted and Rising, the 7th annual Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference in Atlanta Georgia. In Opportunity Gardens, we work with a diverse group of participants, including many from the black community. (As an illustration –  we currently have speakers of 15 different languages in our program.) We wanted to get some different points of view and perspectives to help us interact more effectively with people in our program who hail from different backgrounds.

Rooted and Rising was attended by many black people from around the US and Canada who are involved in agriculture in one way or another. There were farmers, non-profit workers, people looking to get into farming and gardening, producers of value-added goods, and others working in multiple industries linked to agriculture. The conference focused as much on racial justice as agriculture, covering many topics such as historic and present-day barriers to black people acquiring land to use in agriculture, the low quality of food available to many black people living in metropolitan areas, dietary challenges facing many black people, and the less-than-welcoming environment black people experience when moving into rural areas to begin farming.

The name of the conference reflects the two major themes that we discussed. “Rooted” refers to the often-overlooked rich history of black people in agriculture prior to slavery and how that legacy can be an inspiration for people returning to farming and gardening. For example, Eugene Alala from the Grow Where You Are community garden talked about how many enslaved Africans were intentionally chosen for their skilled agriculture ability. Their techniques of growing rice and draining swamp land for agriculture are still used today in the South.  “Rising” is reflected in the triumphal and inspiring stories of black people surmounting institutional and individual racism to obtain and retain land, to take control of their own food supply, and to produce healthy food for themselves despite huge obstacles. We explored many resourceful ideas for urban agriculture and learned of the role of black Americans in developing beloved innovations.  Examples included Pick Your Own and the CSA model, developed and popularized by Booker T. Watley, and the Community Land Trust model, which keynote speaker Shirley Sherrod helped develop in the 1960s, and on which thousands of programs across the US are now modeled – including Columbia’s own CLT.

The first day of the conference was composed of a tour of seven different urban farms and gardens around Atlanta, and on the second day we attended workshops covering many topics related to farming, urban gardening and racial justice in the US.

Each urban farm and garden we visited is working to bring fresh healthy vegetables at affordable prices to communities which are often located in food deserts. They are spaces where community members are welcomed to participate and learn how to grow vegetables themselves, and they are often hubs where community gatherings take place and the arts are celebrated. The people we met are taking food production power back into their own hands, raising food in their own neighborhoods and communities and reducing dependency on massive corporations producing low-quality food far away. As we visited each garden it really hit me how important it is that these physical places exist in neighborhoods where they can serve as real-life examples of how it is possible to live. Many people have at least a little space to raise vegetables – even if they do live in town – and these urban agriculture operations serve as inspiration for everyone who sees them.

Abiodun Henderson told us the powerful story of Westview Community Garden, which she helped found, and which now serves as an important source of fresh vegetables and community revitalization. In addition to gardening activities, it provides creative and worthwhile activities and learning opportunities for youth, such as hosting part of the neighborhood’s annual STEAM empowerment summer camp.  This camp is geared toward many of the underprivileged kids between the ages of 7 and 17 who call Westview home. The community almost lost the garden to developers in 2015 after the bank that was leasing the area to them collapsed and the land was turned over to the FDIC, who advised the community that the land would be up for sale in a few months. During this time, a large new trail connecting much of Atlanta was constructed close to their neighborhood, making the value of the land go up. The Westview Community Organization made it clear to the FDIC that they wanted to purchase the land, and were assured they could keep gardening there. Without warning, a bulldozer arrived at the garden one day and began demolishing the garden shed and the raised beds, uprooting vegetables, and overturning years of hard work put into the garden. The FDIC was preparing the land for sale, presumably to another buyer, despite the neighborhood’s expressed intention to purchase it. Abi and the rest of the community were heartbroken by the destruction of their garden, but they organized and created a gofundme page. As a community, they raised the necessary funds to purchase the land! This is an amazing example of a community Rooted together and Rising above the obstacles of bank collapse and gentrification to organize and chip in and maintain something dear and vital to them.

Abi also spoke about how gardens like their own are a part of a necessary movement to survive and improve life in inner-city areas like hers where employment and access to healthy, fresh food are scarce. The stakes are high. Diabetes, obesity-related health problems, and poor nutrition decrease quality of life and are killing our friends. One way to directly address the large scope of the problem is through collaborations.  For example, Grow Where You Are and Truly Living Well, two of the other urban agriculture organizations we visited, partner with another nonprofit Abi runs – Ganstas to Growers – which connects previously incarcerated people to agriculture.

Throughout the conference, one theme that was emphasized was the power that gardening has to foster community. Our guide Eugene Alala from the Grow Where You Are community garden talked about how their work helps to bridge gaps separating different demographics and brings people together from all over the community who wouldn’t otherwise spend time together. Several of the gardens we visited recognize the importance of people gathering and enjoying communal time not only while gardening but also after the day’s work is done. Urban Sprouts, for example, has a large bonfire area and is constructing a stage which will enhance their ability to host movie nights, spoken-word events, and concerts. Jerry Ra of Urban Green University who partners with homeowners to raise vegetables and fish in gardens and tanks in their backyards, also emphasized the importance of creating strong personal relationships with participants in his program. This was especially good advice for me in my work with Trish and almost one hundred participants in Opportunity Gardens.

Another theme that came up in various discussions was the differences in legislation pertaining to urban agriculture across the nation. Some cities allow people to sell vegetables raised on public land and others do not. Atlanta is very friendly towards urban agriculture and in 2009 established a city-wide plan which included “launching a childhood obesity and local food initiative, passing new farmers’ market and community garden ordinances, committing to bringing local food within ten minutes of 75 percent of all residents by 2020, and committing to building community garden and urban agriculture plots in all city parks.” It made me realize how important it is for individuals to organize and support legislation and political movements which enable urban agriculture.

As I heard stories of black peoples’ long history in agriculture, I thought about how I – as a white person whose two sets of grandparents were both farmers – have not given enough thought to how slavery may affect current views of agriculture held by and about black people in a society where negative news about black people is intentionally and disproportionately over-publicized or about how important it is to give voice to the countless positive stories of black people in agriculture. We need to educate ourselves about how black people and other minorities in the USA are facing an uphill battle much steeper than white people are. We need to take action, including providing funding and resources to support organizations such as those that we visited during the conference. Supporting black-run organizations helps empower them with the resources they need to improve their own communities in the ways they see fit. I also appreciate even more, the importance of bringing people of color onto CCUA’s staff because they would be better able to relate to the unique challenges and obstacles preventing people of color from gardening.

The themes and information I learned at the conference impacted me deeply and opened my eyes to many obstacles facing people of color in our agriculture and food system. The innovations and strategies being developed to dismantle racist structures and thrive despite barriers are inspiring and I come away from the conference informed, convicted and with the hope that comes with knowing what can be done to help.


Rooted and Rising: Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference, November 10-12, 2017, Atlanta GA

By Tricia Woolbright

Part 2: The Conference

The conference opened with the keynote presentation by Shirley Sherrod ( and Rukia Lumbumba  (Please look at their presentation notes, which can be found at the links.)

Both speakers were very passionate and made me tear up a little as they discussed social justice and the struggles which they have had to endure. It was shocking to learn that they’ve had to face down law enforcement and armed members of the kkk blocking them from land they legally purchased. Through legal battles, they eventually were able to get the land they owned turned over to them. It really hit home how hard it is to obtain and keep land, and how systemic racism has kept people from owning land or having equity in farming. They urged people to find strategies of cooperation and to seek training in business and communication. They also advocate for the honoring of and healing from the trauma of oppression, even as people struggle with serious ongoing issues.

One topic of interest to me during Shirley’s remarks was the fact that often black farmers do not get credit for the agricultural ideas they develop.  I believe it’s important to pay attention and honor their legacy. If we don’t know our roots, we can’t grow.

Rukia ended the presentation by leading everyone in the New African Creed: 


We then moved into our workshops. By far, my favorite was a workshop by Jerry Ra called: Cooperative Urban Farming: Turning Your Home into an Asset. 

Jerry has been doing urban ag for 15 years. Having started in community gardens, he feels they are disaster for new urban gardeners. He emphasized that the distance from the home was the biggest problem. (I, too, have found a distinct difference between community gardens and home gardens. Our surveys also reflect that the distance to a community garden can be a serious hurdle.) He also found that selling plots didn’t work, there were problems with equitable resource distribution, and many community gardens were started with no focus or communication with other organizations.

Jerry took on this program by coordinating gardens.  One would grow herbs, another greens, etc, and they would split the proceeds at market. He then started Ants Cooperative. Intended as a CSA, Ants was landless and relied on small private plots at homes. These back-yard Liberation Gardens are farmed and managed by Jerry and his crew. The homeowner or renter provides the space and pays ¼ the water bill. The gardens use wicking beds and Kilimanjaro Mounds (same principle as Hugelkulture, but with a name reflecting African heritage) and utilize rain catchment. Liberation Gardens have both aquaponics and mixed crop vegetables, and they can be set up for $100. Once the garden is producing, Jerry’s crew takes ½ the produce and fish and leaves the rest for the host family. They then take their ½ to market and bulk sell it. ½ of the proceeds go back to the family. The family ends up with half the food, and some money for allowing this program to farm at their house.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

Currently, Jerry is working on building beautiful living walls and is developing income generating projects. His work is inspiring, his perspective was refreshing, and I really admire him.


I also attended a workshop on Uplifting Urban Youth through Urban Ag. Led by Atiba Jones, of Risala Gardens and Director of Greening Youth Foundation:  He had many good points about urban youth and the positives of engaging them in urban farming. I enjoyed learning about some really great urban youth led programs, some exchange programs, and ways to teach business in farming.  


After the workshops, there were two closing speakers: Leni Sorenson 

And Matthew Raiford

These two speakers were funny, passionate, and real. I really appreciated their outlook and how they teach. I would like to follow Leni and learn more from her as she teaches homesteading, provisions prep, and different techniques for living off your garden. She always asks a farmer at the market, “is this what you have after all your family and friends and you are taken care of for the year?” because she believes farmers need to first feed themselves and the immediate community, and she has met a lot who sell first and take the leftovers only. Matthew Raiford was comical and passionate, and had a lot of stories of failure.  His land story was harrowing.  In fact, both had huge struggles with land acquisition. Access to and holding on to land was at the forefront of this entire conference, and it was a strong note to end on.  

I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference.  My heart and mind are forever changed and improved by what I learned. I encourage everyone to follow and learn from these and other leaders in black farming, and I believe we should honor the legacy and rich culture of black agriculture in the US.

If you would like to learn more, the following books were recommended:

  1. We Will Shoot Back, Akinyele Omowale Umoja
  2. Booker T. Whatley’s book: How to Make 100,000 Farming in a Year
  3. The Cooking Gene:, Michael W. Twitty

Rooted and Rising: Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference, November 10-12, 2017, Atlanta GA

By Tricia Woolbright


Part 1: Farm Tours!

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Black Farmers Urban Gardeners Conference in Atlanta, Georgia with Matthew Dollan, Americorps, Dee Campbell-Carter, Community Gardens and food teacher organizer, and Kira Kirk, CCUA intern. It was an eye-opening experience, and I wanted to share some of what we learned.  


On Friday, Nov 10 we toured 7 black owned and managed Urban Farms in various neighborhoods around Atlanta.  

Urban Sprouts:

Built on the property of an abandoned motel, this diversified crop farm sells food and seedlings to the neighborhood. The motel pool is filled with lily pads and other aquatic plants, and there is a large perennial native and fruit tree garden. In addition to welcoming tours – including school field trips – Urban Sprouts has space for parties and outdoor movies, and they are building a stage to encourage community gatherings. They have a “food bucks” program for low income families, and are hoping to become an entrepreneurial hub in the neighborhood.

Gilliam’s Community garden:

Gilliam’s works to teach children how to cultivate the land and respect the ecosystem. They instruct residents on how to prepare, juice, and eat vegetables from the garden in a variety of ways, and they provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables. They also welcome their community to enjoy their green space. Gilliam’s is a wonderful garden space with livestock, a high tunnel, and lots of composting innovations. They would not allow pictures but they were very informative about their value-added products and shared their website and fundraising initiatives. The couple is really amazing at making a lot out of little, and I was very impressed with their animal husbandry skills and the interesting spices they sell.

Grow where you are, with Eugene Cooke:

Eugene was so dynamic. He saw us all get off the bus a bit weary and decided to engage us physically to get our minds into the moment. We circled up, did a bit of stretching, and then walked in a long line to a bed.  He told us about Malokia- also known as Nubian Spinach – and we all took some seeds. Then we tasted a leaf and pulled the plant out, thanking it. Next, we each pulled a plant and lined them up along the bed. As we identified the plants, he discussed the history of the garden, local social injustice, racial divides, the amount of unutilized human resources in the community, and the relationship he has with local landowners and churches who support his program and the community. I was very impressed with the way he engaged the tired crowd of 40+ people. Everyone hung on his every word, and we were uplifted.



Westview Community Garden with Abiodun Henderson:

Abby was super candid and honest about food justice and struggles in a gentrified or slowly gentrifying neighborhood where homes are being remodeled and sold at high prices.  Westview Community Garden has had land security issues because of this, and has been demolished once before. Fortunately, they have since purchased a plot of land, where they are receiving mixed acceptance with the neighbors. The garden has become a hub of activism and place where people can get food in an area that is slowly pricing people out of their homes. It was a real look at how economics and race can be challenging for a community garden. Abby is incredibly intelligent has been doing a lot to help empower her community and help people find justice. They were very inspiring.


The Garden Queen’s farm with Haylene Green:

The Garden Queen is very hard working and passionate and is an expert business woman. Originally from Jamaica, she and her sister make a LOT OF FOOD with the help of volunteers.  At the garden, they serve and sell produce, prepared foods, and value-added products. She said, “Everything I grow here yields” and I believe her. She had nuts, bananas, ginger, and hibiscus. For her Jamaican customers, she has many tropical and specialty plants. She is 72 and has more energy and strength than most of the people I know, and she is passionate about delicious food. I also noticed that her ginger looked like iris and was planted close to the surface in lots of milk crates lining the floor of the greenhouse. She has every inch of space in plants.

Truly Living Well:

 This farm most reminded me of CCUA! It was beautiful and large and full of very happy greens and plants – including fruit trees that were loaded with fruit, and huge peas. The person who spoke first was like a food justice preacher who really took us to church on social justice, food sovereignty and more. They gave us a taste of fruit and the amazing story of how they got their land. They are now located on old public housing grounds that flood. A LOT! This location is brand new, and it took $11,000+ to move the farm physically from their old address. They have a large-scale composting operation, school field trips, education, community food programs and more. It’s a beautiful farm and I look forward to learning more about them over the years. (Also, their cultivated persimmons are amazing…and the raised beds were incredible!)

Habesha Gardens: 

(A little background: The Abyssinian people, commonly known as the Habesha or Abesha, are a people inhabiting the Horn of Africa.) The farm had prepared a party for us, but we were now 3 hours late, and so plans changed. Fortunately, we were still able to meet everyone. They asked us to introduce ourselves, which really helped with networking and relationship building. The garden is simple and beautiful. It is well done on a shoestring budget and has some interesting touches – like their rain catchment art and a mural. Their children’s garden is in the shape of an Adrinka symbol for Leadership (Adrinka symbols represent concepts or aphorisms and are used extensively in fabrics and pottery and are incorporated into walls and other architectural features among the Ashantis of Ashanti Kindgom and Baoules of Cote d’Ivoire.) My favorite program at Habesha was the “Grow the Growers” program.  It partners the senior citizens garden program with the kids’ education program so that the young and old can hang out together to learn from each other. It’s been very successful and inspiring.

That evening we ate at The Sweet Auburn Curb Market – a daily farmers’ market that features a food-court style collection of different cultural restaurants, including soul food, Jamaican, pho, and lots more. It was delicious! There, we connected with other conference attendees who wanted information on our Opportunity Gardens program. We finished the day with a house party for the conference attendees that included soul food, delicious “sweet potato kiss” mixed drinks, awesome music and a bon fire. At the party, we had the chance to participate in a story telling video series for people to get on camera and tell their farm story.
Next Up: The conference!

A Parent’s Perspective

By Kristin Frazier

I grew up with a large garden.  My parents had both been raised on farms, and so for us it was as natural as could be to grow our own food.  Summers during my childhood were spent digging in the dirt, shelling peas, snapping beans, and picking tomatoes – first in that backyard garden, and then on the farm we moved to when I was in middle school.  It was a wonderful way to grow up, and some of my strongest memories are centered around the food that we grew.

My own children don’t have a garden of their own (we have lots of trees, and no sunlight), but – thanks to my parents – they’ve also grown up playing in the dirt.  When we visit the farm, everyone is expected to work.  Oftentimes we’ve barely had a chance to unload our suitcases before we head to the garden to see what’s growing or harvest veggies for dinner.  The reward for a weekend of helping Grandma and Grampa is a carload of produce to take home for ourselves, which is always appreciated.

Perhaps I was naïve, I always assumed that most people understood where their food came from.

Then my girls went to school, and I found out just how wrong I was.

I spent a large amount of time volunteering in our elementary school.  This enabled me to build great relationships with our teachers, and it also gave me a front-row seat to the goings on in the classroom.  Over time it became apparent that my own family’s diet was anything but the norm.

Here’s some of what I noticed:

  1. School lunches offer a lot more variety than they did when I was a kid, but students don’t always make the best choices when putting things on their plates.
  2. Both of my children were teased for bringing in lunchboxes full of fresh foods.
  3. Our schools are drenched in sugar – often it’s used for either individual or classroom rewards.
  4. The healthy foods that teachers asked us to provide for class parties were passed over by the children for the many, many sugary treats that were also brought in – often in quantities considerably higher than those requested.
  5. Parent lunches and field trips always consisted of fast food and junk food.  (For many families, this is a treat for the occasion.)

I do not believe in labeling foods as either good or bad or in restricting foods unless there is a specific health concern such as a food allergy.  What I do believe is that kids don’t get enough credit when it comes to food.  So often we believe that we must give them ‘kid friendly’ foods because they don’t like ‘healthy’ choices like fresh veggies.  Unfortunately, it becomes a cycle – we don’t offer them fruits and veggies…so they don’t like fruits and veggies…so we don’t offer them fruits and veggies – and that contributes to many of the things I noticed in our school.

So how do we change this?  There are lots of great ideas out there, but I think we should start by teaching children about where their food comes from…. which brings me back to what I learned when I began helping in our school.

I was really shocked the first time I asked a child where her food came from because she answered me by saying, “the store.”  Upon further questioning, it was clear that she didn’t understand that her apple had grown in a tree.  If you’ve spent time with children, you’ll know – as I discovered – that this is common.

The good news is that this is something we can fix.  The even better news is that if you take a child out into a garden and let them get their hands dirty – if you show them where their food comes from and involve them in growing it – they get excited about trying vegetables!  I’ve seen it in my own children – and I’ve seen it in many others.

One of the things that drew me to CCUA was the educational work that we do with children.  During my first week on staff, I accompanied our PLANTS program staff to one of our local elementary schools for a lesson in making salad with greens they had grown in their tower garden.  The kids were clearly excited, and knew it would be a special day.  We led them through a discussion of how plants grow before breaking them into teams to harvest the greens, wash them, spin the water out, tear them into pieces, and make a dressing.  Once the salad was put together, the students went back to their desks and so they could try the salad.  At first, we gave them small proportions – just enough to taste – but it wasn’t long before they started asking for seconds, thirds, even fourths!  (The teachers decided to share the salad with other classrooms, or they may have finished it.)  Even the most skeptical had enjoyed their salad.  The lesson was a success.

Learning about where food comes from, participating in growing food, and having the opportunity to try new things…. these are key in creating life-long healthy habits and a love of veggies!  It’s my dream that every child gets to experience the magic of a garden at least once in their life, and I believe CCUA’s PLANTS program is doing a wonderful job in making sure that happens.

Besides…there’s nothing quite so good as peas fresh off the vine!

AmeriCorps Great Stories, from PLANTS Programs

by Clint Brinkley

During their year of service, AmeriCorps members are required to write Great Stories about their experiences.  Clint’s stories give us a look at the variety of opportunities available through CCUA’s PLANTS programs.  

Great Picture 1


After enough teaching experience, and it really doesn’t take much, you’ll start to notice how students best learn things. Now, every student is different, but one thing I’ve noticed throughout my time as an educator is how well students pick things up when they literally pick things up. The opportunity to explore things with your hands provides great educational opportunities. This can range from digging in the soil to building models. Recently an example made this abundantly clear to me. While teaching a lesson on seed dispersal methods there were more blank stares than I’d like, but after showing real examples like “helicopters” and dandelions I could see the connections starting to be formed. What really cemented the lesson was when the students got to work in small groups to build their own working seed dispersal models. It’s those a-ha! moments that really help validate hands-on learning to me.

Great Picture 2.1

One of the most memorable moments I’ve had while serving this quarter was on Mayor’s Day of Recognition of Service. Partly because of the recognition, but mostly because it was the first big lesson of Spring. After an entire winter of planning and waiting, it was great to be back “in the field” teaching children about the plant life cycle, gardening, and how that relates to the food on our plates and the people in our community. The students had a great time meeting prominent civil servants in our community and getting their hands dirty in the garden bed. They were able to plant peas, lettuce, kale, spinach, and other vegetables, and are eagerly awaiting the day they’ll be able to harvest and eat them!

Great Story 3

Every year a few motivated students in the Columbia, MO area get to participate in Camp Salsa. The idea of the program is to teach valuable business skills to young adults by having them create a business plan for a salsa company, then actually make and sell the salsa. Part of the program takes place at the Urban Farm. Every Wednesday the young entrepreneurs come out and learn what it takes to grow the ingredients for the salsa by planting the crops themselves. It’s always a joy to work with this group because they’re all so interested and engaged with what we’re doing, whether that be learning about different pests on the farm or pulling weeds out of a row in preparation for planting something. One moment that made me particularly proud of them was the second time we planted a row with them. The first time we planted a row we set aside two hours to get it planted, and didn’t quite finish everything. The second time we set aside two hours again, and they finished every part of it in just under an hour! We had to come up with another activity for them on the spot because they were so fast. I’m looking forward to working with them for the remainder of the program, and especially trying their salsa!

Great Picture 4

Every year, Broadway Christian Church has their vacation bible school partner with a group or organization around Columbia, MO. Luckily for us, this year they chose the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. For one week they came out for two and a half hours every morning to learn about food and do service work. While the lessons are always interactive and fun, the highlight of the experience for me was the Day of Service they did. On that day, we didn’t do any formal lessons, just worked. We started out with a brief discussion on what service means. Not according to the dictionary, according to them. After a few heartwarming responses, we got to work. And I’ve never seen elementary schoolers work that hard for that long! In two hours we were able to pull out almost every weed from our outdoor classroom, as well as lay new mulch over the entire thing! And not once did I hear any complaining about the heat or being bored; Only a few questions about weeds, playful banter, and the occasional kid trying to sneak a cherry tomato or blackberry!

Great Picture 2

AmeriCorps (2)