By Billy Polansky

Today, Columbia Public Schools, Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, Heart of Missouri United Way and the Boone County Children’s Service Fund Announced a pilot program that will connect students with their food. The program aims to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, improve physical and mental health, and improve academic achievement. The program will begin in the 2018-19 school year and serve all 3rd and 5th grade students at: Alpha Hart, Elliot Battle, Benton STEM, Blue Ridge, Derby Ridge, New Haven, West Boulevard, and Parkade Elementary Schools. These eight schools were selected because they all have rates of Free and Reduced Lunch over 50%. “We know that students who qualify for free and reduced lunch have lower levels of academic achievement when compared to the student body as a whole. Research shows that students who improve their nutrition, improve academically. So, if we improve nutrition for our students, they will be healthier and achieve more.” Said Dr. Peter Stiepleman, Superintendent of Columbia Public Schools.

The partners in this project emphasized how this would help students make good choices. “Every school, across the district, has a garden bar. We make a variety of fruits and vegetables available to students every day. School lunch has changed a lot in the last ten years, there are many healthy choices. Unfortunately, students aren’t always motivated to make the healthy choice. There is huge potential for this Farm to School Program to get kids excited about the healthy options.” Said Laina Fullum, Director of Nutrition Services at Columbia Public Schools.

About 1,000 students will participate in the Farm to School program. Each student will participate in 17 different food and agriculture-related activities throughout the school year. The activities include place-based learning, school gardening activities, fruit and vegetable tastings, cooking demonstrations/activities, and field trips to Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture’s Urban Farm. These activities will encourage healthy diets, fruit and vegetable consumption at school and home, and spending more time doing healthy outdoor activities.

CCUA and the United Way will organize workdays to build new garden spaces at six of the eight schools. Additionally, CCUA’s staff will provide ongoing support throughout the year to ensure the gardens are successful. In the past teachers, parents, and volunteers have been responsible for planting gardens and the results have been inconsistent. In this new multi-school effort, CCUA and the school district are looking for more consistency across the eight participating schools. During the spring, summer and fall months CCUA staff will make weekly visits to each school garden to ensure they are receiving adequate water, fertilizer, and any pest problems are being managed. Often in school gardens, teachers can become overwhelmed with this constant maintenance, especially during the summer months. CCUA’s involvement will remove this burden from teachers and puts it in the hands of its experts.

“This is a milestone in our relationship with Columbia Public Schools. We have been providing hands-on experiences to students and teachers at CPS for the last nine years. This program will build on that partnership, improving our collaboration and coordination as we move forward. Together our organizations are creating a position within the school district that will work with CCUA’s staff and volunteers to promote local agriculture and healthy food choices for our kids.” Said Billy Polansky, Executive Director of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.

Local agriculture, school gardening, and getting students involved with their food aren’t new concepts to the school district. In 2014, Columbia Public Schools received a grant from the USDA’s Farm to school Program to increase local food procurement, increase the number of indoor and outdoor vegetable gardens, and provide hands-on activities to middle school students. The Boone County and United Way funding will build on the foundation laid by the USDA grant.

“The creation of the Farm to School Coordinator Position will enhance existing food and gardening lessons by making linkages across topics. We have hydroponic gardens in all elementary and middle schools. We can conduct scientific experiments which show the differences between lettuce grown indoors versus outdoors. This lettuce can then be used in health lessons and featured on the schools’ garden bars. Making connections across the school building, across subjects, and even across town with hands-on activities will provide more meaningful relevant experiences to our students. Ultimately, we are creating a fun, interdisciplinary, and effective model of learning which can be used across the district.” Said Mike Szydlowski CPS Science Coordinator.

Kelly Wallis, Director of the Boone County Children’s Service Fund expressed her enthusiasm for the project. “We are really impressed by this project’s high level of collaboration. The program is working to improve the physical and mental health of some of Boone County’s most vulnerable children by promoting healthy lifestyles. Our board looks forward to this pilot program’s implementation and will be following the program closely.”

The Boone County Children’s Service Fund is awarding the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture $99,060 in the 2018 calendar year. $41,784 will be used for this pilot, $36,343 will be used to provide hands-on lessons at various afterschool and summer programs and for in-school lessons in the remainder of the 2017-18 school year, and $20,933 will support CCUA’s Opportunity Gardens Program which trains low-income families to be self-sufficient backyard gardeners.

The mission of the Boone County Children’s Services Board is: To improve the lives of children, youth and families in Boone County by strategically investing in the creation and maintenance of integrated systems that deliver effective and quality services for children and families in need. The fund is financed by a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in November 2012. The board first awarded contracts for services in 2014, and since then has contracted for over $28 million to purchase services from local agencies that serve children and families in Boone County.

United Way is making an Education Impact investment of one-time funding in the amount of $17,914 to build six new gardens and $13,653 to maintain all eight garden spaces thoughout the year. CCUA will continue to receive United Way Health Impact funding for Opportunity Gardens in the amount of $59,402.00.


A panel of volunteers, comprised of community stakeholders including education experts, reviewed all grant applications and made recommendations to the Heart of Missouri United Way Board of Directors.   “We are thrilled about this opportunity to improve health outcomes in our community while enhancing equity in education,” stated Rachel Delcau, Director of Community Impact at Heart of Missouri United Way. Rachel went on to express confidence in CCUA’s capacity to deliver the Farm to School program, which will improve education outcomes in our community.




Fun Facts From the Garden

By Carrie Hargrove, originally produced as KBIA’s Farm Your Yard radio program in December of 2015.

Note from Kristin Frazier, Development Associate:  A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of helping with a field trip at the Urban Farm, which was a fantastic opportunity for me to get out of the office and become directly involved with some of the fantastic work we do!  On that beautiful spring day  I helped lead three different groups of third graders on quick tours of the farm. They had visited in the fall, and were instructed to observe and take note of what was different.  We had some fantastic conversations in the group discussion that followed,  covering a wide variety of topics…including the following:

Happy New Year! 2016 is going to be a great gardening year, I can feel it in my bones. Over the holiday season I, like most folks, spent lots of time with family. Being the resident plant nerd of both mine and my husband’s family, I got asked a few questions about basic botany. Some questions were nebulous: like this one, from my grandmother: why does my houseplant look like this? That’s a good question, I didn’t really know the answer. Others were more concrete, ones that I could answer, like this one: what is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable? While I was explaining the answer to my husband’s cousin, the

look on her face made me realize that while I take this information for granted, it might not be widely known. Yesterday, I tested that theory on my parents. I asked them whether a pepper is a fruit or a vegetable. After some conferring they decided that it was a vegetable, but the fact that I was asking them in the first place made them suspicious that it was a fruit. That was good inferring on their part, because a pepper, along with eggplants, cucumbers, and yes, even okra are all actually fruits.

To be clear, I am only concerned with botanical classification of fruits and vegetables. There is a difference between what is a fruit on a plant and what a chef decides is a fruit. Legally, even, a tomato is classified as a vegetable…even though I am here to say it is actually a fruit. In 1893, the SCOTUS ruled that a tomato was a vegetable. (Which is weird to me, because, like, didn’t they have more important things to rule on? I guess it had something to do with taxes, I don’t know, I’m a gardener.) Anyway, I have three very special plants I want to talk about, and hopefully, I will clarify any confusion about fruits and vegetables.

Let’s start with eggplants. When I took my first botany class in college, and learned what part of a plant the fruit was, the eggplant is what really got me. I mean, there is nothing farther away from an apple than the taste of an eggplant. How could this be a fruit?! It all starts with the birds and the bees, specifically bumble bees.  Imagine that you have an eggplant plant growing in your backyard garden. It’s dark green and healthy, the plant is happy, and the day length is just right so it starts to flower. It’s a lovely sight. When the flowers are mature, they are visited by bumble bees, who transfer pollen from one plant to another, thereby pollinating the flowers. A pollinated flower will then turn into a fruit. All fruits have seeds inside them (with the exception of some triploid plants that have been bred purposefully by humans- think seedless watermelons). These seeds will sprout the next generation, thereby starting the cycle all over. So botanically speaking, all fruits come from pollinated flowers, and have seeds in them for the next generation.


A vegetable, on the other hand is a simpler concept: a vegetable is any non-fruiting part of a plant. Roots, leaves and stems are vegetables. Imagine a red onion, obviously this onion is a vegetable, but lets take this one step further. What part of the plant is an onion? If I had to wager, I would guess that most people would assume that an onion is a root, given the fact that it grows underground, but once again, nature deceives. The layers of an onion are actually specialized leaves. When you go home, pull an onion out of your pantry. If you feel like it, cut it in half going from the roots to the pointy top. When you look at the cross section, you will see a bunch of onion layers, these are the specialized leaves, and then all the way at the bottom near the roots a barely noticeable and stubby stem, from which all of the onion layers- the leaves- are connected. Cool, huh?

Lastly, my favorite: the fig. A fig is a fruit, right? Well…yeah. Ok, you say, well it can’t be a vegetable, right, because it is neither root, nor stem, nor leaf. That is true. So what is it? A fig is tricky, it is actually a whole bunch of flowers protected on the outside by a fleshy stem. In botany, this type of flower arrangement is called an inflorescence. Each fig had a tiny opening through which a very specific wasp can enter to pollinate the flowers inside. So when you munch on a fig you are actually eating a whole bunch of tiny, tiny fruits, encase by a specialized stem. So a fig isn’t one, it is many fruits. That slight crunch or grainy feeling when you eat a dried fig? Those are the tiny seeds of the all the fruits, but also the tiny wasps that pollinated the flowers inside. Don’t be alarmed! That’s extra protein!

If there is one thing I have learned from my years as a gardener, it is that you really can’t judge a book, or a fruit, by it’s cover. As we spend these short grey days of winter waiting for the next opportunity to get our hands dirty in the garden, pay attention to what you eat. Think about the where your cucumber came from, not only botanically speaking, but geographically as well. Be thankful for the wonderful opportunity we have to eat such a plethora of fruits and vegetables at this time of year. Gratitude is what this season is all about.


“Farm to Table” is Backwards

by Billy Polansky

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “farm to table.” If you haven’t heard, the idea of farm to table celebrates the importance of local foods and brings us closer to the farm. The words bring attention to how the food is grown (farm), distributed (to), and prepared (table). It is a very linear, chronological description of the process that gets dinner on our Table.

However, if farm to table is a way to connect eaters to agriculture, shouldn’t it be called “table to farm?” I think we’ve got it all backwards.

If you were to close your eyes and conjure an image of farm to table, you might think of a seven-course dinner at long table next to a farmer’s field. Those types of dinners certainly are the hallmark of farm to table, but come on, use your imagination a little bit. Your farm to table experience is what you make of it. You can be connected to fresh, local food without being a full-time foodie. Farm to table can be snacking on cherry tomatoes in your backyard, volunteering at Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture’s urban farm or eating breakfast at a diner that serves up local eggs (many do). These are easy, fun, and low-cost ways to get involved. Urban agriculture is one of the great equalizers for Farm to Table. It gives opportunities for people from a diversity of backgrounds to be a part of the farm to table experience.

There are many variations such as “farm to fork” or “farm to school.” In fact, CCUA’s mission statement uses the phrase “seed to plate.” At CCUA, our lesson plans don’t start with seed and end with plate. We always start with the plate for a very important reason. For most city folks, the plate is all we know. We all eat, and if we’re lucky, we do it three times a day. The plate is what makes the seed relevant. The plate is a very comfortable place to start learning about agriculture.

When we have a field trip at our urban farm, we often start with the question: “What is your favorite vegetable?” In season, harvesting is always a part of the experience for our young visitors, and planting is usually reserved for a follow-up visit or more advanced lesson. We aren’t starting with the seed, we’re starting with the plate.

In CCUA’s Opportunity Gardens Program, we mentor families who want to be successful home gardeners. One of the first questions we ask the families we mentor is “What do you like to eat?” We start with foods that these future gardeners are already comfortable with on their plate. Radishes grow easily and quickly and is a good crop to build a new gardener’s confidence and hold their attention. However, radishes are often unpopular on the plate, so if you don’t enjoy the taste of what you grow, you’re missing the point. Instead we often start new gardeners with crowd favorites that are a little more complicated, like tomatoes or peppers.

Another example of why it should be plate to seed is plant spacing. It is easier to understand how far apart to plant your crops if you work backwards. Tomato plants need to be planted at least two or three feet apart, and to a new gardener that distance doesn’t seem right when your starter plants are only the size of your fist. The temptation is to cram them together. However, if you think in the direction of Plate to Seed, then you know what a full-grown tomato plant looks before you plant the baby, and the temptation to plant them too close goes away.

With spring finally here, it is time to get out in your backyard garden. If you’re wanting to start a garden or eat more local foods this year, my recommendation to you is to work backwards and start with the plate. What do you want on your plate? Perhaps more importantly, what do your kids want on their plate? From there, talk to your neighbors about their backyard gardens, glean some advice from farmers at the Columbia Farmers Market, or stop by CCUA’s urban rarm to see what we’re doing. Once you know what you want on your Plate and how you’re getting it to the plate, it is time to get your hands dirty and start caring for the Seeds.

originally published in the Columbia Daily Tribune on April 24, 2018.

LAST CALL for Phase 1 donations/pledges!

By Adam Saunders

As you’ve seen over the last few weeks, the Agriculture Park is entering a big moment in time:

  • An acre of future production space at the Ag Park is in motion (Thank you volunteers for helping spread 42 yards of compost!)
  • Our contractors will begin construction on Phase 1 in a few weeks
  • We’re wrapping up a four week fundraising push to close out Phase 1 of fundraising (Last day APRIL 26th!)

We are excited to report that we’ve made huge progress toward our short term goal of $300,000.  We’ve raised $240,878 and have another few days to close the last little bit, $59,122.  Reaching this goal would ensure that the winter market’s sidewalls will be included in this year’s construction.  Please act now to help us maximize the work completed in Phase 1!

Many thanks to everyone who has donated in the last three weeks to help us close the gap.  We have 62 new donors and 9 donors have increased their pledge.Thank you!

IMPORTANT DATE:  Thursday, April 26th marks the final day of our first phase of fundraising.  Everyone who has given prior to this date will be recognized on the donor wall inside the MU Health Care Pavilion.  This donor wall won’t be updated again until we begin Phase 2 of construction.

PLEASE ACT NOW to make your pledge to the project!  Dig deep when making your pledge, as you can spread payments out over several years if desired.

Improvements to the Children’s Garden

By Clint Brinkley, AmeriCorps Member


Ask any gardener what their least favorite chore is, and you’ll probably hear one of two things – either weeding or watering. In the height of summer these two chores can take hours every week, depending on the size of the garden. You can help control weeds by mulching, but solving the watering problem is a bit more involved. That’s why we are so excited to have had a group of volunteers help us install a new irrigation system in our Outdoor Classroom! Member of our staff and a volunteer group recently gathered together to glue PVC, dig trenches, and position the new system so that this season keeping the Outdoor Classroom watered consists of attaching a hose and turning some valves.


AmeriCorps (2)

Help Speed Up The Agriculture Park Construction Timeline

By: Adam Saunders, Campaign Director

The Agriculture Park is prepped to make some MAJOR progress in the 2018 construction season!  Last week we received bids for phase one of the Agriculture Park. Our project team is currently in the process of selecting the winning bidder.  Eight contractors submitted bids and one bid in particular stands out, it is from a qualified local group and has the lowest price with a reasonable timeline.

The contractors provided us with prices for a large “base” project scope and three smaller, optional add-ons, or “alternates”, that could be added to the scope of work this season. The base includes all sitework, grading, utilities, stormwater, concrete for the MU Health Care Pavilion, the middle portion of the Pavilion, restrooms, and plaza. The three alternates are: sidewalls for the winter CFM market, CCUA’s barn/greenhouse, and additional customer/ARC parking.

We are within striking distance of securing the base bid and two of the three alternates, but NEED your help to close the small funding gap. We need to secure approximately $300,000 in new pledges and donations before April 26th in order to maximize the construction that will occur in 2018. We’ll do our best to share the progress toward this goal, but need your donations and pledges to help us close this short term gap.

Please consider making a pledge or donation to help ensure that the maximum amount of work on the Ag Park can be completed this year. You can make a pledge online at  Also feel free to contact campaign director Adam Saunders at 573-356-9392 or to talk further about the project and naming recognition opportunities at the Agriculture Park.

Thank you for your consideration!

Stories from the Opportunity Gardens Program

By Trish Woolbright

The last few weeks have been really exciting, as CCUA’s Opportunity Gardens Staff has finally been able to get back outside to help families in Columbia build their gardens and kick off the growing season.  It’s our busiest time of the year, and we love every minute! To celebrate, we thought we would share two stories about our gardeners.

N. is a 50 yr old transgender veteran who applied to Opportunity Gardens after learning about the program in the newspaper. When N. came to us, they were living on just $1.50 in food stamps every day and could not cook with an oven or a stove because of PTSD. They needed help with fresh foods that could be easily cooked with a crock pot or microwave and could be stored easily. At the same time, N. was anxious about meeting new people, being outside the house for very long, or being “a failure”. In fact, N’s world had become very small and reclusive. We started N. with one small garden bed, and over the next three years N. worked really hard to learn everything they could.  Those three years made all the difference in the world! N. was shocked to discover just how abundant a garden could be. It was overwhelming! Now N. spends more time outside, has gotten to know their neighbors, and shares garden tips with fellow gardeners. N. learned how to plan the garden to grow the specific varieties of food they liked, and also practiced freezing and drying the produce to make it last longer. N. is proud of losing 20 lbs. Because of their improved diet and more active lifestyle, and can now touch their toes. As N’s confidence in their gardening skills grew, we installed two more raised beds and fruit perennials. We are so proud of them for all the accomplishments and the positive results gardening has had in their life. We know we have helped someone find their passion in gardening for life.


T. is a mother of 4 who was once homeless and unable to find work. She had found help through another agency, even gaining an internship so that she could in turn help others, and was working hard to build a better life for her family. One day, Opportunity Gardens staff came to that agency to share information about the Opportunity Gardens Program.  T. was intrigued, but she also had a really hard time believing that she herself could garden. The more we talked about helping her clients, though, the more she wanted it for herself too.

She was scared, and had a lot of questions. “Will there be snakes?! What about getting sick from the food if I do it wrong? What happens if I get dirt all over me, won’t I get some disease or a bug will bite me? What if I do it wrong and it looks bad and the neighbors get upset? How am I going to find the time, I have kids, and school and this internship!? It’s already all too much, but my kids and I need to eat more vegetables and fruits! We need this, but I’m scared!”

All of these concerns come up often for new gardeners. Taking risks means you have a safety net or a back up plan, but living on the edge of homelessness or with the experience of trauma can mean that these risks are HUGE – too big for someone to consider taking. For example, getting sick can mean time off work, the loss of a job or a home, and medical bills that you can’t afford. Opportunity Gardens helps take the risk out by giving you that safety net while you learn. We come with the right equipment, bring the right plants which you have chosen for yourself, do reminders, and share tips all along the way as we guide people towards independently growing and eating whole foods they grew from seeds or small plants.

T. decided to take the risk with our help. We started her with a pretty small garden, encouraging the the whole family to help with the work. By mid-summer, though, the challenges of a busy – and changing – family schedule had led the family to abandon their garden. T. felt bad and was going to give up, telling us, “I told you I couldn’t do it!” We asked her, “Did you eat from the garden?” She said, “Well yes, those were the best salads of my life, the greens were amazing, and the kids loved it! We just lost track of it and couldn’t keep up.” We responded with, “Well then let’s find the veggies under these weeds together and we will start over! It’s never too late!”

T. did not believe us, but we got to work anyway. What we found shocked even us!  Under all of the weeds abundance was waiting. T’s garden was growing in spite of the neglect, and we had to have 2 giant bowls and a grocery bag to haul the bounty back to her kitchen! She was grateful we didn’t give up and said, “I can see how it’s like this in the rest of my life. I might give up before I get the abundance, but I shouldn’t quit. It might still be ok.”

We made a plan to help keep this from happening in the future, working around the difficulties and challenges of T.’s very busy schedule. The kids manage watering and harvesting from some of the plants, we put down more mulch to keep the weeds at bay, and we made a less complicated garden plan. So far there have been no bugs we can’t handle…and there have  definitely been no snakes in the garden!