Memory Lane

By Carrie Hargrove

Today we’re once again bringing you an archived transcript of Carrie’s Farm Your Yard Program from KBIA.  We hope you enjoy!

Happy September! If you are a backyard gardener you are well aware that we are about to turn the last curve into the homestretch of the 2015 gardening season. If you are really on top of things, you already have all or most of your fall greens and roots planted, and if you are really on top of things, those fall veggies are already peeping out of the ground. But don’t worry, if you aren’t quite there, you still have a little time to get outside and plant your last crop of lettuce and radishes for the season. While it might seem a bit premature, let’s stop and take a fond look back at the 2015 gardening season.

It might sound like a line out of a Dr. Phil episode, but it really does pay off to work on your relationship with your garden. Gardening can easily be misconstrued as work. And let’s face it, one of the reasons why there are fewer gardeners and farmers now than in past decades is because growing food can be demanding. But I do believe with my whole heart and soul that gardening is a totally worthwhile endeavor for so many reasons: personal health, culinary delight, family bonding. These are just some of the most obvious benefits.

But I digress. Let’s focus here on the garden in your backyard as it is right now. Diseased tomatoes, waist high weeds, groundhog damaged kale. Sound familiar? Well, maybe not for you, but that is literally what the garden in my backyard looks like right now. It’s kinda a mess. But I love it! I am still getting wonderful peppers and more tomatillos than I bargained for. And while the kale is not so pretty anymore, I plan on eating it all the way down to its stem this winter.

I think this time of year is a great time to make a quick list of the things I want to change for next years’ garden. I like to do this now before winter, when any thoughts of sunlight, greenery, or the semblance of non-furnace produced heat bring tears of longing to my eyes. No, I want memories of heat, weeds, the bug bites to be fresh, so that I can be as realistic about next year’s plan as possible. Because if there is anything that I have learned from teaching other people how to garden it is that success and enjoyment beget more gardens. People really don’t love a hobby that feels like work and that ends with failure. So, with that in mind, here are some things I plan on doing differently in my garden next year:

  1. I bring an intensity to my backyard garden that I rarely exhibit in any other situation in my life. It probably stems from the fact that my paycheck comes from farming, so I bring that desire for efficiency, economies of scale, and an all-around take no prisoner attitude every March when I get my seed packets in order and trot out to backyard to kick butt. That attitude is probably why I ended up with 140 feet of carrots planted this march. That’s almost 1,000 carrots, and since my family consists of me and my husband, that really was over doing it a bit. Next year, maybe I’ll plant 14 feet.
  2. In previous years, I have started all of my tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and any other thing that needs to be transplanted on a sunny windowsill in my house. This year, when I was caught up in all of the spring craziness that my job brings, I forgot to start tomatoes for my personal garden. For a minute, I filp-flopped between just forgoing my personal tomato patch or buying tomato plants from somewhere else. I ended up buying extra tomato plants from Bradford research and Extension Center. That was a good choice. Plants grown in a greenhouse are always healthier than the spindly plants I would get from my windowsill. Totally worth the twenty bucks I spent.
  3. I grew only green onions in my garden this year. But I am a veritable onion lover. In my house, onions go in every single dish. Next year, I want to grow some of my own. And since I promised myself I will grow less carrots, I should have plenty of room.
  4. Next year, I am not going to be embarrassed about how my garden looks when I bring guests over. If you have spent any time gardening, you know that Martha Stewart’s garden is a hoax set up for a professional photoshoot. Gardens are nature, and nature is not landscaping. Yes, my garden will have lots of weeds, it will have pests, and I will have some plants that won’t look perfect next year. But you know what? I will have a bumper crop of something-like my tomatillos this year- and I am going to get to enjoy the delicious fruits of my labor with the ones I love. And that is what it is all about. Vegetable gardening is not about keeping up with the Jones’, it is about something much deeper. It is about staying at the kitchen table with friends and family that much longer while enjoying a cucumber salad instead of heading in different directions with our faces glued to a screen. It is about reconnecting with the outdoors and eating better. And most importantly, it is about fulfillment. Fulfillment that comes from acknowledging our successes and failures that are inevitable in everything in life, and especially in gardening. It is about the fulfillment that comes from not giving up after your first failed attempt at growing a tomato plant. It is about the fulfillment that comes from teaching your toddler that pickles are cucumbers and cucumbers grow on a vine in your backyard. It is the fulfillment of doing something more worthwhile than living a life completely indoors.

The season is almost over, and for me, this is the best time of the year. While I sit here eating my carrots, I look back and am deeply satisfied by the struggles and successes that 2015 gardening season brought, and look forward to facing different ones in 2016.


Cherng Global Leadership Academy

By Clint Brinkley

This summer Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture was super excited to partner with the Cherng Global Leadership Academy to bring members out to the Urban Farm. Students from all over the Midwest got to come spend 10 days in Columbia, MO working on developing their leadership skills. Part of one of those days was spent at the Urban Farm. Students got a tour of the farm and talked about our growing practices, but also discussed the ideology behind why we do what we do. After that had a group discussion about needs we see within our different communities, and how each community is a bit different. A solution to a problem in Ashland may not work as a solution to the same problem in Chicago, for example. The students then came up with ideas for responding to some of the needs we identified, and then learned how to research organizations and agencies that were already working on solutions. Lessons like these, while very important and empowering, can be a bit emotionally exhausting, so of course we got to walk around and snack on a few garden treats afterward! One treat that we tried was the flowers of the toothache plant (named for the numbing/tingling sensation the plant gives your moth when eaten). You can get an idea of how it feels by their reactions in the picture!101112AmeriCorps (2)

Keeping A Garden Journal

By Carrie Hargrove, originally aired as Farm Your Yard on KBIA in February of 2017

In my life, I get a supreme amount of pleasure out of being organized. I swear there is nothing better than having a well thought out to-do list. I still keep a notebook for my daily agenda – unlike many, I haven’t fully converted to a Google calendar yet – and (without irony) I would rank crossing things off my hand written to do list as a small, yet immensely pleasurable moment of each day.  I know that makes me sounds uptight, but I’m not. I just think things go better when you are prepared.

Not surprisingly, I lend these traits to my main hobby – gardening. As I said earlier, the record keeping and list making makes it all the more rewarding and easy, so let’s talk about the merits of keeping a garden journal. It might sound boring to include in your hobby a running calendar of all of the tasks you did and still need to do, but there are a lot of reasons why you want to keep track of your gardening efforts each and every season.

Firstly, let’s address the hedonistic element: your taste buds. Look at any seed catalog and by the descriptions it would seem that each and every variety of carrot is simultaneously the most productive and the sweetest. Friend, I am here to tell you that isn’t so. I have plowed my may through pounds and pounds of gnarly, woody, and all around unpleasant carrots that were described as “the best tasting” and “uniform”, neither adjective I would agree with. Do I know what kinds of carrots those were? You bet, I wrote that variety name down and will steer clear of it in the future as I make progress in my goal to find the tastiest carrot for my backyard garden.

Which leads me to a small soapbox rant I would like to make: You know what irks me? Those Martha Stewart type vegetable garden photos of rows of giant head lettuces, lush kale plants, uninterrupted linear feet of carrot and radish tops. I think you know the type of picture I am describing. They show overwhelming aesthetic beauty and bounty…which is not what a garden looks like if you actually eat the food that you are growing. My garden looks like someone – me – is constantly running a rampage through it in search of any and everything that I can put on my dinner plate. Vegetable gardens are for eating – of course there is beauty in it as well – but my point is that a vegetable garden is not landscaping, which is unfortunately how Pintrest has made it appear. I think my 3 foot tall kale plants that have obviously been harvested dozens of times are beautiful, but most importantly, they are delicious.

Which lets me circle back around to my original point: keep written notes about what varieties of what vegetables taste the best to you, so you know what to grow the next season. For me and my garden, it’s all about taste.

Apart from the taste of the fruits and vegetables themselves, I pay a lot of attention to recipes that I make out of the produce from my backyard garden. I am an avid canner, fermenter, freezer, and dehydrator. After all, you can only eat so much during the growing season, so why not squirrel some of it away for a grey winter’s day? I try to write down the recipes I use when preserving the harvest so that after I have long forgotten the sweltering August day when I canned that homemade enchilada sauce, I can confirm in December that maybe I added a few too many Serrano peppers. That way, this coming August, I can remedy that mistake and make my culinary concoctions even better. Again, my garden is all about my personal hedonistic pleasures and note taking has allowed me to take it to the next level.

A close second to taste in my love for my garden is that I want to do good for my soil and the microorganisms. I enjoy doing things for my garden to make sure they stay healthy –  like adding compost, planting clover, or covering the earth with straw mulch. I enjoy doing that because me and my garden have almost a symbiotic relationship: if I want to keep getting those purple tomatillos for my killer tomatillo salsa, I always want to be giving back to my garden to make sure it is healthy and vibrant. Record keeping plays a role in this preservation effort. My garden is big enough for me to practice crop rotation, so every season I write down what is planted where, so I have a good idea of where I need to move things to make sure I don’t sap too much from the soil or allow pest infestation to fester. If your garden is large enough, rotating crop families so they aren’t always growing in the same spot is one of the hallmarks of soil conservation and sustainable agriculture. In order to make sure you are rotating your crops right season after season, you need a map of what went where for each gardening year. Keeping those notes will help ensure that you are mindful of what your garden needs from you in order to remain happy and productive.

Right around this time of year (late winter) I finalize my garden plan for the season based off of what grew in my garden last year and the year before. I purchase new seeds in the varieties that I have previously noted that I enjoyed, and ones that I intend to use in my favorite canning recipes later on. With my finalized map and plan, I am ready to plant, harvest, and thoroughly enjoy my garden this year. I encourage you to go one level deeper in your gardening efforts this year and keep a journal. With a little organizing you too can be swimming in delicious homegrown vegetables this year.

If you want to learn more about rotating crops in your garden, good varieties for backyard gardens, or anything other vegetable related topic, stop by our Urban Farm and say hi!

AmeriCorps Stories

by Clint Brinkley

Event:  Summer Expedition

Every Summer Columbia College hosts a program to enrich local middle school students. Part of this program is coming out to the Urban Farm each morning for lessons about agroecology. Topics covered include pollinators, watersheds and pollution, plant biology, and food insecurity. While the students were very interested and engaged, I could hardly hope to compete with their interest in the mulberry tree. They like the berries so much I think they were even giving the birds a run for their money!

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Event:  Parent Cooking Class

In my role as a garden educator I predominately work with elementary school students. There are a lot of reasons for this. Partly it’s a self-feeding cycle that the more I work with that age group, the more comfortable and better at delivering information I get. Partly it’s that that is the age group that has the availability to go out in the garden. And partly it’s because kids that age are more interested and willing to try new things and play and learn in the garden. I do get to work with middle schoolers some, and less frequently with high schoolers, but I still give lessons to those age groups on occasion. One group I almost never work with is adults. That’s why I was so excited to be given the opportunity to teach a cooking class to a group of parents of Boys and Girls Club members! Teaching adults comes with it’s own unique set of challenges and advantages, but it was a ton of fun working with folks to make sweet potato – black bean enchiladas and a southwestern salad! We made some to eat together and everyone got to take a tray home to give to their families, too!

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Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Gardening

By Carrie Hargrove, originally aired as Farm Your Yard on KBIA in January of 1017.

There’s a book out there called All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I think that is a great concept, and I think there could also be a book written called, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Gardening.

When I was 20 and first started thinking about how neat gardening was, I didn’t really jump into the hobby feet first. No, I went into it intellectually first and then through the kitchen. I read books about gardening, thought deeply about our modern food and agriculture systems here in the United States, and made omelets with zucchini and green onions that I shyly purchased from local vendors at the farmer’s market. I was excited to meet anyone who tended a plot at a community garden. I liked the idea of gardening and local farming, but was kinda intimidated by it all at the same time.

The reason why I was intimidated was because reading all of those gardening books gave me too much information to absorb, which led to the unfortunate outcome of me being possibly more confused than I was before. The problem, which I only understand now in hindsight, is that I was making it too big in my head. I should have just dived right in and been open to learning from the mistakes I was bound to make. At the time, though, I was more interested in knowing everything I needed to know before I started gardening, to minimize the chance of failure.

Fast forward 10 years, and if there is one thing I have learned about gardening it is that it teaches you to get right back on the horse every time you fall. Let’s face it, failure to some extent is inherent in gardening. No year provides the perfect environmental conditions for every plant you want to grow. Sometimes failure is out of your immediate control, like the incredibly wet summer we had in 2015 that straight up killed all of my heirloom tomato plants in early August. I got only a few Brandywines that year. Coming to terms with the fact that our best laid plans as gardeners might not work splendidly – depending on what mother nature throws at us – is a humbling concept that teaches you to stay on your toes and not dwell on mistakes or failures.

Now other times, failure is totally the fault of the gardener, like when I chose not to thin my carrots and so never got any carrots bigger than my pinky because they were all growing too close together. Failure can be hard to swallow for many of us, but I would argue that learning to own up to your role in a situation that failed and turning that into a positive teaching moment has been great for my character. Also, and I’ll tell you this much, I definitely take the time to thin my carrots now.

When you put your heart into something that doesn’t go right, you have two choices, you can give up, or you can learn from that moment and vow to act differently in the future. Reading about the importance of thinning carrots in one of my gardening books didn’t drive the point home as much as pulling a handful of carrots out of the ground only to find them to be nothing but stringy unformed roots. For me, there are things you can learn from a book or in a classroom, but some things you just have to experience to really understand. It’s the mistakes you make that you learn the most from. Gardening has taught me not to fear making a mistake, but to embrace it and learn from it.

Something else that was hard for me to deal with in my early days of gardening was the concept of patience. It was really hard for me to accept that you can plant a seed in the ground, and it could take a week or more for anything visible to happen. A week was simply too long for my need for instant gratification, but now I have patience for days. At work, what I call “gardener’s patience” is evident when a coworker and I will be talking about how certain crops are doing at our Urban Farm, and we say things like: “That head lettuce matured in 50 days?! Dang that was so fast!” There is something important in cultivating patience in yourself, and I feel that these days there are fewer and fewer moments that teach that virtue. So why not take up gardening as a hobby…if just for the reason of cultivating your patience.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that gardening has also taught me to eat vegetables. I grew up in the 1990’s when iceberg lettuce was king. Even when I was in my 20’s and really got into cooking, there were some things that I just steered clear of – like beets. What’s wrong with beets? They’re sweet, and beautiful, and you can do so much with them in the kitchen. I’ll tell you what’s wrong with beets: it’s that I wasn’t exposed to them apart from the canned or pickled versions that I had grown up with. It wasn’t until I tossed some beet seeds in my garden, grew beets, and harvested them that I finally decided that I should try them. I can’t quite explain it, but something profound happens to you when you spend time growing the food you will eat. The time I spent growing those beets in my garden made the possibility of eating a beet not only seem not gross, but like something I very much wanted to do. Watching the beets grow put beets into a context for me that canned beets never did, and so beets became delicious to me. I experienced that same phenomena with sweet potatoes, okra, kale, chard, and leeks.  I tell you, I am a changed person. There are numerous peer reviewed articled that show that getting to know vegetables by growing them will affect how you want to eat, informing your dietary choices for the better. We could all learn to eat some more veggies.

Why don’t you choose to grow a garden this year, for all of the personal benefits it will afford you? Tenacity, patience, a healthier diet; these are just a few of the things you can learn! And all you have to do is dig a garden! We at the CCUA are here to help you with that. That is my full time job: helping and encouraging people to get outside and better themselves through gardening.



Loving Ugly Vegetables

By Carrie Hargrove – initially aired on Farm Your Yard on KBIA in 2017

I got into a conversation with a coworker a few weeks back about how hard it was to be a vegetable farmer here in the US. I think being a farmer in general is a tough, round the clock, unglorified job, but having been a small scale produce farmer for a few years I know firsthand that market farming vegetables is demanding.

There are lots of reasons for that, but the main two reasons that I have identified are these: One: here in the US we aren’t used to paying the actual cost for our groceries. The true price of most of the food we consume is hidden behind government subsidies of crops like corn, rice and wheat; and the fact that most farm workers-immigrant or not- are not paid a living wage for their work.  This goes a long way to keeping our grocery bills low, and doesn’t reflect the true cost of what it takes to produce the food. When someone is strolling through a farmer’s market and sees the price of a farmer’s heirloom tomatoes, they might gasp. Why? That tomato is priced to make that small scale farmer a living wage, which increases the price of the produce dramatically. Sadly, many people don’t buy it because they think that it costs too much.

The other main reason why I think it’s hard to be a farmer here is that we have a ridiculously high standard for the aesthetics of our fruits and vegetables. Is that green bell pepper slightly asymmetrical? Get it out of here. Forked carrots? No way! The list goes on. Grocery stores are like New York’s fashion week: the produce section is full of fruit and vegetable models. Just like in our species, where people with model-like bodies are the exception and not the rule, fruits and vegetables have natural variability in what they look like. Not every carrot can be 10 inches long and perfectly tapered. I am going to be honest: the tomatillos that I grow and love in my garden never look like the ones I see at Gerbes.  Heck, I eat kale with holes in it daily.

I think having a frank conversation with new gardeners about what to expect from their first garden is always a good idea. I always try to give a very affirming reality check.  For example: invariably, folks want to plant broccoli in their garden. I am here to support that, but I feel that it is only fair to let them know the reality of growing one or two broccoli plants in the springtime here in Central Missouri. Growing broccoli here is tough. You might not be successful, and if you are successful you won’t be overloaded with broccoli. In the spectrum of plant productivity, broccoli ranks pretty low on the list. Also, it needs fertilizer, and if you aren’t comfortable with putting fertilizer on your garden- even an organic one- you might want to pre-tell yourself that you will get a small head of broccoli. But the thing is: that is fine. It’s gonna taste the same. Sure, it might not look like what you see in the grocery store, but hey you grew it yourself! It came from your yard. You tended it through that hail storm, watered it that week in April where it hovered around 70 all week. You picked the destructive caterpillars off of its leaves. Man, you loved that broccoli. So, even when all is said and done – and maybe the broccoli head doesn’t look like the cover of a Better Homes and Garden magazine – isn’t the fact that you loved it and nurtured it and ate it with your family the most important?

That concept is the distilled essence of my campaign to get all of Columbia gardening: don’t compare the stuff you grow in your garden to anything else. If you do that, you’re missing the whole point of gardening in this day in age: which is to sink deeper into the joys of what life is, to do something that is deeply fulfilling, even if the fruits of your labor aren’t instagramable. You know what I mean? The fact that I can traipse out to my back yard right this second, dig up some green onions, pluck some spinach, go inside and make a salad feels incredible. Who cares if the spinach has holes in it, or that the tips of the green onions are yellow? The gratification of growing something, of being productive, or being of outside and meeting the neighbors is what gardening today should be about.

Of course, I didn’t always feel pride in my slightly misshapen garden produce. Growing cucumbers for a number of years really went a long way in teaching me that there is no such thing as a garden vegetable that is too ugly. Many times, the conditions that cause irregular formations of fruits or vegetables are out of your control. More precisely, they are controllable, but the extent that you would have to go through to get perfectly symmetrical produce would be unrealistic. An example of this is our native soil and carrots. Carrots don’t grow well in our clayey soil of central Missouri, but you could change that if you incorporated tons and tons of compost and sand into your garden to create a completely different soil structure than what is in natural in these parts. I guess you could do that, but really, are you doing to? Probably not. My cucumber learning curve is a somewhat similar situation- in that environmental conditions caused my cucumbers to be misshapen. Many times my cucumber vines would spit out weirdly shaped cucumbers. They kinda looked like a fat letter “J”. The top was fine, but the blossom end was puny and curled up. I learned that that is a consequence of incomplete pollination of the flower. As we all know, bees are facing some dire straits right now. I already knew that, and my cucumbers reaffirmed it. I guess all I can do is plant more native flowers in my yard in hopes of doing my part to conserve these vital pollinators. While at first I was slightly embarrassed to share my weird looking cucumbers with friends and family, learning the underlying cause turned the situation into something wholly different. My cucumbers shouldn’t be scorned: they’re proof that we need to be more diligent in protecting and conserving the invertebrate pollinators all around us. There is nothing like a wonky cucumber to put a human in its place.

Gardening is about trying to take control. I am going to make sure that this one type of plant grows in this spot, and will make sure that nothing invades this area… but we can’t control everything, which is evidenced by crooked carrots, misshapen cucumbers, and lumpy beets. At the end of the day, my weird cucumbers were a lesson in humility, and also in letting the small things go. Like, does it matter? Sure the pollinators matter- that is a real issue we are facing. But does an ugly cucumber matter? No, the cucumber tastes great. So if you grow your first garden this year, and harvest some alternative looking fruits and vegetables, don’t get down on your skills! That is a fact of gardening and farming- do not be deceived by the produce section of the supermarket. What you pull out of your garden is more normal than what you see on the produce shelves. Embrace the sweet potatoes with holes! The chard leaves with purple streaks, and the heirloom tomatoes with seriously cracked shoulders! When you are in your kitchen cut the bad parts of, and you know what? Whatever dish you cook with them is going to taste, and feel marvelous.

From Garden Bounty to the Table

By Carrie Hargrove, originally aired as Farm Your Yard on KBIA in Sept. of 2016

At the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, we have a great program called the Opportunity Gardens Program. Through the Opportunity Gardens Program, CCUA staff offers gardening supplies and garden mentoring to families living with low incomes. When the original idea for the program was hatched, we were so excited to be able to connect lots of people with gardens that produce delicious and healthy veggies. Fast forward, and we have learned lots of things about gardening with people of all ages, from many countries, and with a wide variety of backgrounds. We have learned gardening tricks from farmers from Burundi; we’ve learned what veggies are great for containers and which aren’t; and we have definitely learned that despite its robust popularity as of late, many people, in fact, do not know what to do with kale.

This last one – the fact that the act of gardening in and of itself does not automatically translate to recipes ideas and culinary skills – has had a big effect on our organization and our educational programming. Personally, I fell into gardening after I learned to cook and to appreciate fresh food, but if you come at gardening from the other way, learning good ways to use leeks, beets, or kohlrabi might not be initially obvious. That’s why we have started doing cooking demonstrations, offering recipe cards, and finding other ways to encourage folks to utilize all of the beautiful bounty of their harvests. A veggie garden is not there just to look pretty, it is purely utilitarian, and you will be doing yourself a favor to put all of those nutrients to good use.

When people think of fall they think of pumpkins and the harvest – Thanksgiving, cornucopias, and apple cider come to mind. When you have a robust vegetable garden the harvest season, though, is really from May through October. A good vegetable gardener is harvesting from their garden all of the time. So that means the real harvest season is about 6 months long. That is a lot of time to try your hand at some new and fun recipes, and possibly get some food preserving in.

In my backyard garden, I grow lots and lots of paste tomatoes. These are the Roma-shaped tomatoes that don’t have a lot of juice, so are good for making sauces. We plant so may because I get a kick out of canning, and the paste tomatoes are the best for canning. Tomatoes are a great food to preserve if you are new to the process. The natural acidity in the fruit is high enough that you don’t need to have fancy kitchen gadgets to safely can them in your home. The library has a bunch of great recipe books for canned tomato sauces, chutneys, pickles, and pastes. My favorite is the Complete Book of Home Preserving – I have been continuously checking it out of the library for about 3 months now. (I should probably just buy a copy.)

Food that is canned can be stored at normal room temperature, preferably in the dark, for many months. My husband and I enjoy canning tomatoes, peaches, berries, peppers, and apples every year. In the wintertime it I find it so satisfying to go into our pantry, pick up some homemade applesauce, and go to town.

Another way to preserve the harvest is to ferment foods. Fermenting is kind of like a very controlled decomposition that makes a lot of veggies taste great and provides your gut with good bacteria. Traditional dill pickles are fermented cucumbers. Same with half sour pickles. Most of the pickles you can buy in the grocery store are not fermented; they are essentially canned in vinegar to give them that tangy crunch. Fermented pickles taste very different than ones bought nowadays in the store, but are delicious in their own way. Cabbage – think sauerkraut and kim chi is another easy vegetable to ferment.

Fermenting is pretty easy, in essence you place the vegetable in a salt water solution- called a brine- along with spices of your choice, inside an air tight glass or ceramic container and let sit at room temperature of anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks depending on what you are making. My husband and I ferment things in glass jars with the screw to lids. Every day, we “burp” the jar, opening up the jar to release pressure from the process of fermentation. And viola, you have sauerkraut. Or traditional dill pickles, or Kim Chi.

The other way my husband and I preserve our harvest for the long grey winter days ahead is by dehydrating things. We mostly do this with herbs from our herb garden, but in years when the two apple trees in our backyard were really pumping them out, we also dried apples.  Probably the most exciting thing I have done with our dehydrator is make homemade fruit roll ups. Every other year our apple trees just rain apples – this is one of those years by the way, I am up to 25 quarts and counting of canned apples – and in 2014 we made so much applesauce that we started spreading the sauce on the dehydrator trays. Fast forward several hours and you get this sticky sheet of pure apple heaven. After that, I can understand why those organic fruit leathers are so expensive: it takes a lot of time and fruit to make those. But they sure taste good.

Preserving food and cooking homemade meals from scratch takes time, but for me, that is a way I want to spend my time. Good food brings people together, and coming together over a meal that has personal value – something that came from your own hard work – is special. In a day and age when gathering spaces are more commonly are found in social networks online, I don’t think I am crazy to suggest that sharing a good, home-cooked meal with loved ones would do us a lot of good. Moms, when else do you have your pre-teen cornered to talk about their day but at dinner? What about you, young professional who is newly married? When is a better time to catch up with your spouse than over a good meal? Eating is so much more than food – eating should be connecting with family and friends, the great outdoors, plants, bugs. Everyone eats, and we at CCUA just happen to think that everyone should also eat veggies from their backyard gardens.


Gardening is Patriotic

By Billy Polansky

With Independence Day just around the corner, I want to discuss how gardening has played a role our country’s history and how today you and I can show our patriotism through gardening. Patriotism often gets tied to political ideologies. However, patriotism transcends politics and gardening transcends politics. Gardening can be a common ground to bring different groups together.

Webster defines patriotism as “love for or devotion to one’s country”. To me patriotism is simply caring about your country and your neighbors. You can be patriotic even if you think our society has injustices, disagree with your neighbors, or don’t trust the government. I find myself being simultaneously proud and upset about different facets of this county. The fact is though, this is my home, and I care what happens here. There are many ways to show your patriotism, one of the ways I show my patriotism is through gardening. I want to make the case that growing food in your yard is a way to improve and show love for your country.

Let’s start by looking way back in 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the delegates were deadlocked. The months-long negotiations during the summer of 1787 were hot, loud, and smelly. However, after a three-hour walk through the nearby Bartram’s Garden the delegates from North Carolina softened their opposition to the Connecticut Compromise. This walk through the garden led to the votes needed to adopt the first Constitution of the United States. Escaping the hustle and bustle of work for a walk through the garden can take away your stress and allow you to clear your head. I often take a walk through our Urban Farm when I’m feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or stuck. Gardening – even just being in a garden – clears the mind and helps us make good decisions. Making good decisions is patriotic.

During World Wars I and II, “Victory Gardens” were promoted as a way to avoid food shortages and bring people together on the home front. In 1942, Missouri’s own George Washington Carver even published a bulletin “Nature’s Garden for Victory and Peace”, encouraging families to eat wild-foraged and home-cultivated fruits and vegetables. I just love how these Victory Gardens combine our individualism and self-reliance with the collective spirit of working together for the good of everyone. Gardens today can play the same role. My home garden and the shelves of canned goods in my pantry increase my independence. At the same time, the bounty from our backyard is something that my wife and I share with our neighbors and friends. A life with a garden is a life of abundance, so when we’ve eaten our fair share of kale, collard, and turnip greens this spring, it is nice to give the excess to our friends, neighbors, or the food pantry.

A garden is a source of pride. It shows what we can make with our own hands. It connects us to the land. In the United States, Missouri especially, we are fortunate to live in a place where the soil and climate make it relatively easy to grow our own food. Gardening is a way to take advantage of that privilege to make a productive and beautiful space. In Columbia’s central city I see gardens, both ornamental and edible, that brighten up streets which may otherwise be drab. Beautifying your space is a way to show love to your country. My garden at home is an oasis beaming with life and color. Every successful gardener I know is proud of their space and what they have made. Families in our programs at CCUA tell us why they like gardening at home, and there are many reasons. I looked through some of our participant surveys responses and found a few that touched on the freedom it provides “I like the freedom to plant things my family likes to eat”, “I like the freedom of just having it here, and not having to get to the store to purchase stuff”, and “Independence”. Gardening gives us freedom.

Gardening empowers us to take more control of our lives and become more independent; it makes us stronger. Gardening gives us the freedom to eat fruits and vegetables which we may not otherwise be able to afford. Gardening helps create equal access to fresh fruits and vegetables and ultimately equal opportunity to a healthier life. Gardening is inclusive and strengthens the bonds we have with our neighbors and our community. Gardening helps me express my love and devotion to this country’s people and land. So, as you get ready to fire up the grill on the Fourth of July, I encourage you to take a moment to think about how your (current or future) backyard garden can be a way to show your love and make the United States a place with liberty and justice for all.

New Beginnings

By Matthew Dolan, AmeriCorps, Opportunity Gardens Associate


My first time at Joyce’s house I noticed dozens of small potted flowers along the stairway leading up to her deck. “The kids in the neighborhood gave me those for Mother’s Day”, she tells us. And truly, she a neighborhood mom to many on her street. “They come by my house right before school and first thing after school”. After noticing children in the neighborhood crossing the highway to get food at the gas station, Joyce began stocking up on snacks and opened up her home to provide a safer place for children to get something to eat. For years she had been raising a few vegetables for friends and family so when she heard about the Opportunity Gardens program she quickly signed up. With the extra garden space she plans to raise more vegetables for kids and their families in her community.

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Their street is one of the most under served and disenfranchised neighborhoods in the area. Being just outside the city limits, properties are not subject to the same standards and regulations as those inside Columbia. Many of the buildings are badly maintained and water quality is poor. People usually want to move away sooner than later. But Joyce has chosen to fully invest herself in the neighborhood and is working to create a caring culture of people helping one another.

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On Joyce’s garden install day, with the help of her son Sterling and friends and neighbors, we built three raised beds together and planted summer vegetables. With I-70 roaring 50 feet away, we all had to use our outside voices as we leveled out the ground, screwed boards together, and filled the completed raised beds with compost. It is a hot and humid day, but Joyce’s optimism is contagious. “The highway is my ocean”, she says, as she brings out another tray of food for the hard workers. As Trish and Joyce water the garden together and the rest of us load the tools back into the truck, I know we are all looking forward to learning from each other over the next three years in the Opportunity Gardens program.

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AmeriCorps (2)

Changing the World for the Better

by Kristin Frazier

In 2017, 589 volunteers at CCUA worked 2,958 hours.

Think about that for a moment.

589 people gave their time and talent to CCUA, helping to install gardens, tend the Urban Farm, educate children, ensure that our events run smoothly, and provide administrative support.

Thank you.

Thank you to all who have stepped up to help make CCUA what it is today!

In order to celebrate all of that hard work, here are some thought on volunteerism from our staff, board members, and volunteers.  If you would like to learn more about CCUA’s volunteer program or sign up to help out, please visit our website for more information.



Volunteering connects people to their community and helps build skills and self-confidence. Volunteers are essential to what we do here at CCUA, and by volunteering they become a part of the CCUA family. One of the best things about my job is the volunteer orientation. I get to show new volunteers the Urban Farm and talk about the impact of our programs. Many of the volunteers don’t know about the different things we do until they come in for the orientation and it’s really awesome to see people get excited about CCUA. I am always amazed by the volunteers’ commitment to our organization. I hope they feel a sense of accomplishment and feel appreciated because we really couldn’t do it without them.    (Justin Gregory, CCUA’s Office/Volunteer Manager)


It’s important because…if you have the privilege of having free time, you should put it towards things that matter! (CCUA Intern Karthryn Kidd)

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The gift of volunteering helps the giver as well as the receiver.  It’s hard to focus on your own personal challenges when focusing on giving time to another. (Lisa Guillory, CCUA Board of Directors)



Having volunteers on the farm is a way to involve the community in our efforts to increase fresh vegetable consumption.  It’s a great place for diverse people to interact.  it is the exceptional person who comes to us as a volunteer…the volunteers always have enthusiasm, even in the heat and cold, and many of them are just as passionate as the employees. (Lori McCurdy, CCUA’s PLANTS Program and Outdoor Classroom Manager)



It’s rewarding.  I feel good when I do something…I get joy.  At my age it makes you feel like you are accomplishing something, like your life is being fulfilled. (CCUA Volunteer Nona Carr)

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I volunteer because it makes me feel part of a greater group and puts me in touch with people and ideas I might not otherwise experience.  It is, in simplest terms, another connection to your friends, neighbors and community.  It helps to make us citizens. (Robbie Price, CCUA Board of Directors)

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