COLUMBIA - The Columbia Community Garden Coalition is a non-profit, volunteer run group that supports local community gardeners in Columbia and Boone County.
While the group itself does not run the local gardens, they provide support through funding, seeds and tools.
CGC supports over 100 families in neighborhood community gardens, and two of those gardens provide fresh produce to other non-profit organizations.
The Interfaith Garden provides fresh food to the Central Missouri Food Pantry, while the Bethel Church Community Garden provides produce to St. Francis House.
Michael Gold, professor of agroforestry at the University of Missouri and congregation member at Congregation Beth Shalom, said that every year the Interfaith Garden produces more than 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of food for the pantry.
Each community neighborhood garden is run by an individual garden leader. Sarah Kendrick, Columbia Community Garden Coalition Board Member, said the goal is to help increase access to local, healthy food by bringing diverse groups together to garden.
Hari Poudel, a local garden leader joined CGC in 2015, as he wanted to engage and become a part of the community. Poudel is the garden leader for the Ash Street Garden, which is the largest amount of land and largest group of gardeners in the coalition.
Kendrick described Ash Street Garden as a “well-oiled” machine.
One reason why Columbia is such a good place for gardening is because there is a vast support system for agriculture. Kendrick explained that the Center for Urban Agriculture in Columbia is a great resource and provides gardeners with information and education on how to locally garden.
While this year CGC will be unable to have its “Spring Thaw," an event which gathers all garden leaders together, in-person, community garden leaders will be able to get their seeds and distribute those to community gardeners.
Poudel will distribute seeds for gardeners in the Ash Street Garden starting on Saturday, March 13. Although most seed planting will not begin until April, Poudel and other gardeners have begun clearing and tilling their plots.
“We’re currently coordinating our cold season plant distribution to our community gardeners,” Kendrick said. “And in May, we’ll do our warm plant distribution.”
To get a garden plot, CGC says to visit their website, and put in your location. From there, they will suggest neighborhood gardens near your location, and put you in touch with a community garden leader.
In order to provide supplies, CGC receives partial funding through a grant from the City of Columbia, but they also fundraise and ask for donations from their gardeners.
Although donations are requested, due to the accessible nature of the organization, if gardeners cannot afford a donation, “it’s not a big deal."
“We’re trying to create that avenue to make it easier for community gardeners to garden, a lot of folks don’t have the space to create their own gardens,” Kendrick said.
While the main goal of the organization is to increase local access to healthy foods, Kendrick said there are many benefits to gardening.
“Quality of life, stress relief, being outside and getting your hands dirty and growing your own food… I think it’s really important, especially for children to get involved, to see where their food comes from,” Kendrick said.
She mentioned the growing gap in society’s relationship with food and expressed that often we don’t know where our food comes from.
At the Interfaith Garden, the overall mission is to grow food organically and give "every last tomato, or potato, to the food pantry for those in need," Gold said.
Poudel shared the same thoughts about the positive impacts the gardens have on the community.
"That's why we have a positive impact on the community, because they at least know how to produce a vegetable and how to engage in a community and community activity. It gives a sense of accountability," Poudel said.
Along with a sense of accountability for their gardens, gardeners also receive other benefits. Gold explained that when the pandemic hit this time last year, they weren't even sure if they would have a garden, but they were happily surprised.
Instead of having Sunday and Wednesday morning workdays, Gold began seeing gardeners at the garden every single day, six days a week.
Kendrick explained that gardening is what she calls, a very "therapeutic outlet."
"You're not only growing your own food, you're growing your community," Kendrick said.
With seeds being distributed March 13, gardeners will look to plant in April and ready to harvest in the summer.
To learn more about the Community Garden Coalition, visit its website.