Stories from experience

Building community

Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Garden, Columbia, Mo.
Neighborhood leader Kip Kendrick explains that starting a community garden in the Benton-Stephens neighborhood laid the foundation for building community and empowering neighbors to work together. As a newcomer to the neighborhood, Kendrick noticed that the community was very active when confronted with a pressing issue. However, there didn't seem to be ongoing conversations about the state of the neighborhood. Nor was there much effort to mobilize action around less immediate issues such as distressed properties or inadequate sidewalks.

By starting a community garden on a vacant piece of land and by involving as many people as possible, Kendrick and other neighbors launched a number of successful efforts to improve the entire community. The group now hosts a monthly "coffee shop" where neighbors get together to meet, talk about issues and dream about their neighborhood; a partnership is forming with the local elementary school to build raised gardening beds on the school's property; a neighborhood-wide campaign was started to build a sidewalk to connect the neighborhood to an adjacent park; and the city has expanded its Neighborhood Response Team's territory to work with neighbors whose properties violate city codes.

The neighborhood's efforts have even caught the attention of city hall. With Kendrick's help, the city is offering a neighborhood leadership training course to cultivate more grassroots efforts to build community in other neighborhoods.

Giving back

Temple Israel, Rogersville, Mo.
Since 2006, Joel Waxman and a group of dedicated volunteers have grown vegetables at a community garden at Temple Israel to donate to the Ozarks Food Harvest. The group, comprised of Master Gardeners, members of various congregations and other community members, has pooled its time, expertise and, above all, commitment to increasing access to fresh vegetables. The group has donated thousands of pounds of garden-grown food to those struggling to make ends meet.

The 4,000-square-foot garden holds an impressive array of vegetables. "Over the last three years, we've learned what works best," Joel said. Eggplant, potatoes, winter squash, okra, yardlong beans and sweet potatoes grow well in the southwest Missouri climate and soils. For mulch, the gardeners use shredded paper, leaves and hay. For watering, the group uses soaker hoses.

Joel is always interested in spreading the word about the Temple Israel garden. Recently, two other congregations in the area expressed interest in starting their own gardens. Joel and his group intend to do whatever they can to help them get started.

School gardening

Seed to Table Program, Maplewood Richmond Heights School District, St. Louis area
What started as a small program to involve preschool students in growing food and appreciating nature has blossomed into a district-wide effort to integrate gardening, cooking, nature and local food into the entire pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade curricula. Seed to Table Program Director Debi Gibson explains, "Our mission is to promote education, health and wellness by connecting children to the natural world." The program has benefited from the enthusiasm of students, parents, teachers and the commitment of many others. "Our district superintendent truly understands what gardens can do," Gibson says. In addition, the program has been supported by the district's Wellness Policy Committee; the buildings and grounds staff, who received training in horticulture; the St. Louis University Nutrition and Dietetics Program; and the Missouri Foundation for Health.

In many ways, the Seed to Table program is the envy of other schools. The program involves all of the students in the district. It supports one full-time and two part-time staff members. It also has begun to incorporate local food into school meals. With all of this, Gibson is hopeful about the future of the program and the impact it can have. "Our intention is to create a model for other schools and districts to follow," she says. To learn more, visit the Seed to Table program website Link.

Intergenerational gardening

Schuyler County, Mo.
The community garden in Queen City, Mo., located at the Schuyler County Nursing Home, touches the lives of many county residents. Local seniors and youth, along with committed volunteers and staff from the local MU Extension office, are all involved in planting and tending the garden.

Nancy McCullum, avid gardener and garden coordinator, explains that food from the garden is donated to the nursing home, seniors in the town and the local food pantry. In addition, Darla Campbell, MU Extension agribusiness specialist, uses half of the garden to teach the Garden 'n Grow program Link to a group of 8- to 13-year-olds.

The success of the garden is spreading throughout the county. There is interest in starting community gardens in the nearby towns of Lancaster and Glenwood. In Lancaster, a private lot has been identified next to some senior housing. Local nurseries have also committed to donating plants for all of the community gardens.