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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Building Happy Soil For A Happy Garden

By Carrie Hargrove, initially published as a Farm Your Yard episode on KBIA in the Spring of 2016

For the last 7 years, I have spent a lot of time with rotting food. I could tell you some things that would surprise you about the decomposition of different things. For example, avocado skins just don’t break down. Neither do egg shells. Fur really doesn’t go anywhere either. And while it takes a long time to break down, bread from Panera will turn blue as it does- lots of preservatives in that one. This revelation is most likely absolutely disgusting for some people, but it doesn’t really bother me. I can see past what is happening right at this moment in the early stages of decay to see what it will be in a year: the world’s best compost.  At the Urban Farm we make some really good compost that we sprinkle over our beds and put in our potting mix to give the soil and our plants a little boost.

Ok, so first things first: you should drop the $10 to get a soil test. The University of Missouri has a soil lab that will test soil samples for any number of nutrients, with the standard, basic test running you $10. The turnaround time is pretty good as well – within just a couple of days the analysis will be emailed to you. This test will tell you some things that are helpful, like the pH of your soil, the levels of P, K, and those of several micro-nutrients. This is worthwhile info. For example, if you have enough P, there is no reason to rock phosphate to your garden. The basic soil test just gives you a starting point for knowing what soil amendments your garden needs.

This is a good time to point out that amending your garden’s soil is not necessarily the same as fertilizing. Amending the soil with compost is a long-term soil building strategy, whereas applying Miracle Grow is just feeding the plant. A common refrain in organic gardening is “feed the soil, not the plant”. Meaning, that if you have super healthy soil, your tomatoes will grow string and healthy as well. Not that I’m against fertilizing, not at all. It is just that fertilizing and amending the soil are different strategies that can be complimentary in a robust gardening scheme.

Ok, let’s start with everyone’s darling: homemade compost. Up to a quarter of our trash is made up of things that rot. Think about that for a second. Not only are we throwing away a ridiculous amount of food, which means we are wasting a ridiculous amount of food, but we are using a substantial amount of landfill space for things that will breakdown on their own. Yes, I am using this platform to tell everyone to start composting. Even if you don’t garden, composting is a no brainer for waste stream minimization. Ok, I am stepping down from my soapbox now. Back to using compost in your garden.

Think about compost like a sourdough starter. Good compost will contain whole worlds of beneficial bacteria, fungi, and other invertebrates. When you are adding compost to your garden, you really are adding these populations, with the hope that they will proliferate. So, you are starting with a little bit, but that little bit will keep growing over time. Adding an inch or so of compost to your garden once a year, preferably in the fall, will do your garden well. When you add the compost, you can till it in, or you don’t have to. Tilling it in has a more immediate benefit, but just adding it on top works just fine. We call this top dressing, and that is a better mimic of what happens in nature. The compost will percolate through the soil with rain and freezing and thawing.

Also, just like a sourdough starter, you have to feed the compost and the soil in your garden to keep those all-important soil communities thriving. There are lots of things you can add to your garden that will make it happy. These include: grass clippings (only if you don’t spray your lawn), used coffee grounds, and ground up leaves. During the growing season, you can add these things around the edges of the garden, or in the walking paths, or you can use them as mulch around your plants (be careful with the grass clippings- they get hot and can burn plants if too close). Adding them in the fall and over the winter is a good idea as well.  The more soil organisms you have in your garden, the faster these additions will break down.

You can also add inorganic amendments to your soil. These are usually rock dusts, like rock phosphate or lime- things that don’t break down over time. Like compost, and the other organic amendments, these are long term soil building ingredients that are important sources of nutrients for your plants and the little guys that live in the soil. Unlike the organic amendments, these rock based ones would be more dependent upon the soil test you take.

Another amendment you can add is bio-char. Bio-char is wood that has been burned very slowly, which creates a substance that looks and feels kind of like charcoal for the grill- with the important difference being that it is not toxic, as charcoal briquettes are. Bio-char has to be dug pretty deep in the soil, like a couple of feet, and it acts like a little hotel for all of the good things that live in the soil. Bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms live in and around biochar. It provides them habitat to proliferate, which is a good thing for the gardener. Like compost, a very small amount of bio-char goes a long way.

You might have picked up a common refrain throughout this monologue, and that is put stuff in your garden that is good for the things that live in the soil. That is the essence of organic gardening. A successful garden is wholly dependent upon the bacteria, fungi, worms, and myriad other minute subterranean organisms; organisms who, in the course of day to day life, excrete waste, slime, and other substances that the plants can’t get enough of. So, if the soil is happy, and your tomatoes are happy, you, gardener friend, will also be happy.

For more information on how to take a good soil sample, and where to send it to, visit  

Four Ways You Can Get Children to Enjoy Their Vegetables

A guest blog post by Kristin Lewis of

clean carrots

Children need their vegetables. It helps their development and keeps them healthy. Despite this, too often children can be resistant to the idea of healthier food. This struggle is not easy, yet there are a number of ways to get children eating greens.

Vary Up the Vegetables

 While vegetables on their own can be an acquired taste, they are adaptable as ingredients. Children’s tastes are in a state of flux, and that’s something that we can harness. There are many different styles you can choose from, so experiment with your approach. You could mimic the appearance of their favorite foods, like vegetable burgers, or explore how to integrate vegetables into your children’s preferred dishes. Give them as much variation as possible. They may not embrace raw carrots, but they could learn to love them as ingredients in certain dishes. Use flavoring ingredients like cheese and olive oil to mask taste or add appealing textures. It’s an effective compromise to transition your children to a healthier lifestyle and show that vegetables can be a yummy snack or meal.

Don’t Force Things

 Liking something can take time. Children may recoil when they try a certain vegetable or meal. They may drag their heels if they feel pressured into eating something. Instead, maintain an understanding attitude where children do not feel guilty for not having their vegetables. Give them time to explore vegetables, and their many variations, at a pace they feel comfortable with. Offer small portions, even single bites. This can allow them to process the new flavors. While this may be slow, you will be taking away any pressure that could act as a deterrent. Over time, this may positively impact their perception. They will acclimate to seeing vegetables and how adaptable they can be. You may find that, eventually, they grow not only to value what is being offered but to genuinely enjoy it.

Inspire by Example

 As parents, we can shape our children’s values in a positive way. We can accomplish this through our actions. This can be effectively applied to guiding our children toward healthier choices. Children may not appreciate the importance of healthy eating, but seeing their parents eating vegetables can be influential. When it comes to mealtimes, fill your plate with vegetables. Turn them, as well, into delicious snacks that you can eat throughout the day. Be conspicuous about eating vegetables and open with your enthusiasm about them. Your children will become accustomed to seeing a positive relationship with vegetables and may actively try to emulate what they see. Aid this approach by making mealtimes a routine family get together.

Excite with Choice

 Involving our children in decisions can be formative in their development and in their appreciation of responsibility. Giving our children a say in what they eat can get them invested. Take them to the store where they can pick out vegetables, either of their own accord or from a list you have given them. Better still, take them to a farmers market. Children love going on adventures, and a farmers market can be an exciting place full of color and sound. Make this an educational, yet fun, family outing, one which can give them experience of choice. Give them some pocket money, and set them tasks akin to a treasure hunt. Try other fun activities like “I Spy,” and ask them to identify interesting and unusual vegetables. You could learn about their country of origin and the role they played in history. Back home, give them the option to choose recipes and help prepare meals. Make their choices an integral part of what they eat. By connecting a healthy lifestyle to family outings, you can get them excited about veggies.

Inspiring our children to eat their vegetables may take creativity and patience, but the reward of a healthier lifestyle makes it worthwhile. Give your children a say in how they eat and choose their vegetables, avoid guilting them, and make regular visits to the farmers market. Veggies should be fun rather than a chore.

The Future Is Bright

By Lori McCurdy

As my son’s high school graduation has come and gone, I find myself in deep reflection of the memories that have lead us to this moment.  Even though it has come with struggles, my son has a direction. He knows what he wants to do.

Although he grew up in a family that likes to cook (he certainly has lots of memories of licking cake batter off the spoon, and baking cinnamon rolls with his grandma) I am also thankful for the opportunities his public school education has afforded him. In third grade, he participated in a pilot project called Harvest of the Month. Each month, he excitedly shared a new recipe with us at home. He marveled at the way Brook Harlan could flip an omelette and practiced until he was able to perfect it too. His appreciation for fresh and seasonal food only grew from there. In middle school, we toured the Columbia Area Career Center (CACC), and he counted the days when he could take classes in one of those “fancy” kitchens. He continued experimenting in our home kitchen, using what was in our fridge to create dinner for his family.

When high school rolled around, he wasn’t so excited about school anymore, but it was the Culinary Arts Program that got him out of bed in the mornings. He would come home and excitedly share his new knowledge with us; how to chiffonade-cut fresh herbs, making the perfect rue, pairing flavors that compliment a dish, etc. He brought us samples he made at school to try as well, and even our taste buds could tell he was acquiring great skills! His education through the Culinary Arts Program has been extensive and thorough.  He even had the experience of harvesting a live chicken and processing it for the table. For years, the CACC and CCUA have partnered for our Harvest Hootenanny, and by age 16, my son had experienced what it was like to serve nearly 1,000 people at a public event.

His experiences at school grew his confidence.  He started working at a local restaurant at a very early age, dedicating his weekends to serving the public….starting as “dish dog,” then moving on to prep, and now cooking on the line. He understands working in a kitchen is like being part of a team. His loyalty is unwavering. The week before graduation, he acquired a second job at a fine dining restaurant.  When so many kids his age will be shuffling off to college, unsure of their future, my son has direction.

It’s not the path I expected him to take, but it’s his path. I am confident that he will succeed in life, using the tools that he learned in culinary arts class! One of my son’s final projects in English was a paper on the vast opportunities offered at CACC. He advocated that more students should consider learning a trade, to find a passion and a joy in what they do, instead of folding under the pressure that the next step is college.  I am so thankful for his dedicated teachers who helped motivate him to succeed, especially Chef Jeff Rayl for going above and beyond! And if you have a high schooler, please consider looking into all the amazing opportunities that the Columbia Area Career Center offers. They make the future look bright!

Levi at Hoot with culinary
Levi McCurdy (center, white hat) smiles as he gets ready for the 7th annual Harvest Hootenanny with his instructors and classmates.


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.