Growing a greater tomorrow with Victory Over the Virus gardens

  • Published: Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Twilia Harrison was paging through a magazine one day when she came across an article about victory gardens. Decades ago, people planted home gardens to supplement rations and boost public morale throughout the world wars. That gave Twilia, of Shell Knob, an idea. Why not try something similar to bring her southwestern Missouri community together after the challenges of COVID-19?

Twilia took her idea to Georgia Whitlock, vice chair of the Barry County University of Missouri Extension Council. She, in turn, reached out to Barry County dairy specialist Reagan Bluel and horticulture specialist Robert Balek to help develop a plan.

Twilia, Robert, Reagan and Georgia met to discuss the logistics. The objectives were simple: promoting education, physical activity and exercise. There was also the benefit of encouraging healthier eating by growing fresh produce and sharing a better understanding of the many other community resources available through MU Extension in Barry County.

The Victory Over the Virus Garden project got its name from the home garden Reagan’s family had tended throughout the pandemic to keep her family occupied and learning. “This name fit perfectly for what we had in mind, to help our community come back together and emerge triumphant over COVID-19,” Georgia said.

They approached Shell Knob’s Central Community United Methodist Church as a partner. The church had kept its community garden going throughout the pandemic, helping to supply the local food pantry with fresh foods.

“Their garden is situated with a nice view of Table Rock Lake in a really nice gathering spot,” Robert said.

In February, they invited the community to a Saturday information session at the church to gauge people’s interest in a program at the church’s garden that would give hands-on gardening tips.

“I talked to Reagan and said I'm hoping for 20, and she goes, ‘If there's five people there, and it's the right five people, then it's worth it. Everyone that gets educated, that's a win.’,” Twilia said.

They were stunned when more than 40 Shell Knob residents showed up at that first Saturday morning meeting — quite a feat in a community of a little over 1,000 residents. “That would be the equivalent of almost 5,000 showing up for a meeting in Columbia,” Robert said.

The program involves monthly meetings about all things gardening at the church, with topics mapped out through November’s “preparing the garden for winter.” Participants also work in the church garden twice a month and take what they learned back to their own gardens, sharing information and tips with one another.

The garden helps provide a great way for the community to come together and learn about the steps to start and maintain their own home garden at home. With the help of MU Extension, the community has grown not only gardens but a deeper connection.

“Now, as people are emerging from isolation and restrictions, the garden is serving as a community hub,” Robert said. “It’s not only a place to nurture families’ growing interest in gardening. It’s also a catalyst for community building.”

 “It’s a way for families to become more food secure, eat more healthy foods and give back to and be a deeper part of their community,” Reagan said. The connections continue to grow. Community members take their soil samples to the extension center to get them checked. Georgia and Twilia have helped connect 4-H youths with educational resources and opportunities in the garden.

For more information about the Victory Over the Virus Garden project, contact Robert Balek at [email protected] or 417-358-2158.

For other MU Extension programming in Barry County, contact the Barry County extension center at [email protected] or 417-847-3161, or visit during business hours at 700 Main St., Ste. 4, Cassville.

Use Tab key to loop through the section below. Press Enter or Space to enter content for each tab button. Press Esc key to exit and to go to the next section at any time.

Extension resources