Community Gardens Offers Opportunity to Grow Your Own Food

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COLUMBIA - Community Garden Coalition (CGC) offers healthy eating for a low price. It gives low- to moderate-income families and individuals access to fresh produce by joining a community garden.

A CGC board member said the gardens supply participants with more than just healthy food.

"The coalition provides a variety of resources, both material and intellectual," Dan Cullimore said.

In addition to supplying seeds and gardening tools, CGC gives gardeners an opportunity to learn how to provide food for themselves. Cullimore said gardeners receive initial funding and annual stipends to help establish their gardens.

Community gardener Liz Mitchell said she has been gardening for as long as she can remember.

"Even as a little kid, picking beans and tomatoes and stuff," Mitchell said.

Mitchell started gardening through CGC at the Circus-Lyons Garden in 2006. She said CGC allows her to grow her own food since she cannot do so in her rented home.

"It's the opportunity to have the space to grow my own food," Mitchell said. "I rent, myself, so I can't really just go ahead and turn my backyard into a big garden. The landlord might not appreciate that."

CGC offers resources to teach gardeners how and when to properly plant seeds, preserve the food they harvest, and keep plants and soil disease-free.

"For new gardeners, they're especially important," Mitchell said. But those resources are matter to more experienced gardeners like Mitchell.

"You can always look and see if there's something you haven't heard of before. Try it out, and sometimes you stick with your own, and sometimes you find a great new practice," Mitchell said.

CGC accepts monetary and plant and seed donations, but Cullimore said most of the program's funding comes from a grant through the City of Columbia and Boone County.

The grant is an allocation of the city and county's general revenue fund used to buy social services.

In fiscal year 2013, CGC received 2.5 percent of the social services funding total amount.

Other services received a much larger proportion. True North's emergency shelter program received 10.8 percent, Central Missouri Food Bank's Central Pantry received 19.5 percent, and Voluntary Action Center's family assistance and emergency program received 26.1 percent.

CGC has 31 community gardens, all of which have needed more water due to dry conditions during recent growing seasons.

Cullimore said the board has discussed possible improvements it could make with more money.

"A large percentage of our costs for the growing season have been in paying for water," Cullimore said. "We might look at ways of providing water to gardens with resources we don't have at this point."

Steve Hollis, Columbia's Human Services Manager, said the only way for organizations to get more money from the fund is by requesting it before the fiscal year begins.

The Boone County Community Services Advisory Commission suggests ways to allocate the social services fund based on what organizations ask for on their request for proposal forms in June.

Mitchell said it would be nice to have sustainable government funding for the program, so gardeners would not have to worry about money running out.

"Sometimes it's hard to get momentum going and things fizzle out," Mitchell said. "You always worry about whether that funding will be there a year or two from now."

This year the coalition asked gardeners to chip in some extra money to help pay for water.

Cullimore said CGC expanded its budget in order to accommodate the growing number of gardeners.

Board members completed the request for proposal form for fiscal year 2014 Wednesday.

Those interested in becoming a community gardener or donating to the coalition can visit the CGC website for more information.