• Pictured, from left, MU Vice Provost for Graduate Studies Jim Spain, extension dairy specialist Reagan Bluel, Barry County Extension Council member Lainey Harvick, council chair Becky Wogoman, MU Extension Southwest Regional Director Sarah Havens, extensi
    Pictured, from left, MU Vice Provost for Graduate Studies Jim Spain, extension dairy specialist Reagan Bluel, Barry County Extension Council member Lainey Harvick, council chair Becky Wogoman, MU Extension Southwest Regional Director Sarah Havens, extensi

CASSVILLE, Mo. – Hunger and lack of reliable access to fresh food are big challenges for families in Barry County in southwestern Missouri.

The community ranked these issues at the top of a needs assessment by the University of Missouri Extension Council in Barry County. Those results spurred the council to develop the Barry County Community Garden Project in Cassville, a community-wide plan to improve food access and support the local food pantry.

This year, the Barry County Extension Council has helped 12 families establish 34 garden plots. The council has coordinated with organizations and businesses, including MU Extension and Master Gardeners, to deliver nutrition and gardening classes and environmentally sustainable practices to the whole community.

For its work, Barry County was named the winner of the inaugural MU Extension County Council of the Year award.

“The MU Extension Council in Barry County’s work embodied the central role councils have in identifying local opportunities and challenges around agriculture, economic opportunity, education and health; engaging local communities and representative voices; connecting MU Extension with local partners; and supporting initiatives that create measurable, lasting impact,” said Chad Higgins, MU interim vice chancellor for extension and engagement.

After the county-wide needs assessment and the decision to develop a community garden project in the county seat of Cassville, the Barry County council looked to the Shell Knob Victory Garden as a model. “We also had to identify the barriers and how, as a community, we could overcome those,” said council member Lainey Harvick.

“Our council did a really good job of keeping things moving forward and making sure there wasn’t anything in the way. If there were any barriers, people worked together to move them back,” Harvick said. “We really wanted to build partnerships and relationships and have the community completely involved in this project.”

With support from council members and local partners — including Barry Electric, Barry County Ready Mix LLC, the City of Cassville, AireServ, Flat Creek Excavation, 7 Valleys Vineyard LLC and Harvick Farms — the council secured land, a water source and help to supply mulch, soil, fertilizer and garden tools. Additional sponsors, including the local community college, helped offset costs for participants who signed up for the 34 garden plots — double what the council had initially aimed for. More volunteers, sponsors and supporters were recruited through other community partnerships, including FFA, Missouri 4-H and moms’ groups.

The council approved the project in March, just in time for the spring planting season.

“With volunteers, including council members, we were able to get the gardens going quickly,” Harvick said. “Participants had a whole season to get involved in education classes and for us to build relationships and have community outreach in process.”

The council engaged Lincoln University, local entrepreneurs, the Missouri Prairie Foundation and other partners to offer 13 classes on a variety of topics, including safe canning, beekeeping, sourdough bread baking and invasive plant species control.

Lorin Fahrmeier, MU Extension partnership and council development director, who helped coordinate the County Council of the Year contest, said, “It’s amazing to see what can happen when community members pull together for a common cause.”

Barry County Council: 2022-2023 members

Becky Wogoman, chair; Hannah Bolton, vice-chair; Carolyn Kilts, treasurer; Kathryn England-Aytes, secretary; members – David Bolton, Mary Gray, Lois Fairchild, Lainey Harvick, Marcia Moreland, David Samuel, Bobby Branham, Robert Gray, Twila Harrison, Amanda Hudson, Cindy Puryear; youth council member, Hayden Royer

Sidebar: County Council of the Year finalists

Finalists for the inaugural MU Extension County Council of the Year award were selected from each of MU Extension’s eight regions. Finalists presented their pitches to judges in a virtual session on Oct. 17. The winner and finalists were recognized Oct. 24 at the 2023 UM System Extension and Engagement Week awards luncheon in Columbia.

Northwest: Clinton County

The council has fulfilled campaign promises made in order to pass the district-level funding option, including securing a centralized office location, hiring a full-time youth program associate and office manager; carrying out a community needs assessment with subsequent programming targeting high-priority agriculture needs; and increasing 4-H enrollment by 33%, offering welding and expanded embryology classes.

West Central: Benton County

The council’s Building Benton County initiative resulted in the formation of an economic development committee and the hiring of a grant-funded economic developer. Its success in helping to bring new businesses and employment to the area resulted in its selection to host the 2023 Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities conference.

Southeast: Wayne County

Addressing the county’s food insecurity needs, the council worked with the local Community Resource Council and Know-nut ’N Ranch LLC Beef Barn to secure a USDA Local Producers Grant. The grant supported the purchase, processing and distribution of 325 bags of chicken and beef at each of two events where MU Extension and other community organizations could also provide access to SNAP, medical and mental health resources.

East Central: Pulaski County

The county council set a goal to increase agriculture and 4-H programs to meet local interest and demand. These programs included Beginning Backyard Chickens, Adding Sheep and Goats to Your Farm and container gardening workshops. The council also partnered with Lincoln University’s Innovative Small Farm Outreach Program. Partnerships with the Waynesville School District FFA program seek to expand reach and impact to youth.

Urban East: St. Charles County

The Food Pantry Garden project collaboration with MU Extension faculty, the county council and Master Gardeners helps provide 3,000 pounds of fresh produce a year to Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service, the largest food pantry in St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties. Master Gardeners also offer instruction on how to plant, harvest and store produce and managing pests and disease gardens as well as provide outreach to youths. Engagement with the county commission boosts MU Extension’s community impact.

Northeast: Monroe County

A multiyear council fundraising effort resulted in the Oct. 5, 2022, groundbreaking for MU Extension headquarters in Monroe County. The building, with a full kitchen and basement community storm shelter, was supported in part through American Rescue Plan Act funds awarded through the county commission as well as generous community donations. Building ownership ensures space for county and regional faculty to deliver programming, including cooking, nutrition and health classes.

“I was inspired to see the University of Missouri’s land-grant mission being lived out through our partnership with the county councils,” said Chad Higgins, interim vice chancellor for extension and engagement. “As the presentations showed, this partnership can take shape in many ways, from providing timely courses and organizing food drives to planning community conferences and generating support for a much-needed building.”

Representatives of MU Extension in Barry County accept the County Council of the Year award at an Oct. 24 luncheon in Columbia, Mo. Pictured, from left, MU Vice Provost for Graduate Studies Jim Spain, extension dairy specialist Reagan Bluel, Barry County Extension Council member Lainey Harvick, council chair Becky Wogoman, MU Extension Southwest Regional Director Sarah Havens, extension and engagement specialist Kyle Whittaker and MU interim Vice Chancellor for Extension and Engagement Chad Higgins. Photo by Abbie Nell Lankitus, University of Missouri.

Contact: Lorin Fahrmeier, 660-815-3626.