Native plant sale in Columbia offers Missouri primrose, lectures, more

Saturday, April 11, 2009 | 5:42 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The bright sun and mid-50s temperatures helped draw a large crowd Saturday to the third annual native plant sale at the MU Bradford Research and Extension Center.

Four local vendors provided a wide array of native plants, such as the Missouri primrose, for customers to browse. The center also provided lectures by experts intended to teach people the best methods for planting, cultivating and maintaining native plants, as well as efficient farming tactics to help farmers maximize production. 

“That’s our main goal,” center director Tim Reinbott said, referring to native plant education. “It’s important for central Missouri farmers to learn about these plants and all their advantages.”

He added that once beginner farmers get a handle on native plants, they can use them for food, conservation and many other purposes.

Larry Mehmert was one of about 400 customers at the center perusing the different vendors for native plants. An avid gardener, Mehmert said he prefers native plants because of their potential.

“Native plants are adapted to this area,” Mehmert said. “There’s a better chance for good things to happen.”

Reinbott added that it’s important for farmers to diversify because of variables such as unpredictable weather.

Reinbott said this year's weather was the best he's seen at the sale. The first plant sale, in 2007, happened during a harsh Easter freeze, and last year's weather was sunny but cold. 

Mehmert said he would have come to the plant sale in any weather, but “the sunshine certainly helps.”

Lincoln University, which often collaborates with MU on research, also sent several representatives to the sale to educate people about alternative ways to farm.

“There are 80,000 small (-scale) farmers in this state,” said Helen Swartz, a representative from Lincoln University. “We’re trying to help them grow, produce and help them find the best way to utilize their resources.”

Charlotte Clifford-Rathert, a veterinarian-turned-Lincoln University researcher, said she emphasizes to farmers that they not waste anything they could possibly use. For example, she said goats can be used to produce cheese, milk, “surprisingly tasty” meat and even soap, among other things. She also said sheep’s wool can be used to make a variety of clothing, such as purses, sweaters and hats, and she showed off some handmade hats crafted by Swartz. The two are working on dyeing the clothing with natural dyes from native plants such as blue wild indigo.

“We’re the only society that wastes stuff,” Clifford-Rathert said. “At Lincoln University, we’re trying to utilize everything and make people recognize that we need to be resourceful, especially in this economy.”

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