COLUMBIA — With a rake in hand and shovel by the wayside, Theresa Churchill went to work in her garden early Friday afternoon. Shovel-full after shovel-full, Churchill gathered up old mulch overtaking the plot underneath her front window and tossed it into a nearby trash can, eventually revealing the soil underneath.
“I found a little bit of everything in here when I started,” Churchill said. “Weeds, dog bones, a little bit of everything.”
Since moving into her neighborhood in November, Churchill has been looking forward to the second annual Columbia Housing Authority Planting Day. When started last year, the Columbia Housing Authority’s initial goal with Planting Day was to help public housing residents beautify their yards.
“I think it helps give people a little bit of pride in their neighborhood,” Churchill said.
This year, as Columbia Housing Authority staff handed out free flowers and vegetables to residents, the organization’s mission extended beyond beautification as they aimed for education as well.
“Marigolds help tomatoes and other plants grow,” explained Adam Saunders, the Board President of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, to a resident picking out a mix of flowers and vegetables. “They fight off the bad insects and bring in the good ones. They're good to have all over the garden.”
Saunders stayed near the flower-filled tables for most of the day, volunteering advice and information to those stopping by. Some people, like Lee Carter, got a larger learning experience than they bargained for.
“No,” Carter said firmly and without hesitation after Saunders first offered him some fresh oregano. “I’m not trying that.”
With some coaxing, Carter changed his mind. He picked up a small piece of oregano, rolled it between his fingers as instructed to do by Saunders, smelled it and, finally, tasted it.
“Not bad,” Carter said with eyebrows raised and a slight smile on his face. “Tastes like grass.”
After realizing oregano could actually taste good, Carter was willing to try thyme. Then parsley. Then chives.
“I like these the best,” Carter said of the chives.
Vegetables and herbs were a new addition to the Columbia Housing Authority Planting Day this year.
“Last year we had so many people wanting vegetables,” recalls Claire Slama, the resident services coordinator of the Columbia Housing Authority.
In an effort to respond to residents’ wishes, Slama teamed up with a local farm and members of the Community Garden Coalition to give residents access to an array of vegetables and herbs.
Churchill chose mint to go along with her summer glasses of iced tea.
After inspecting the newly planted garden, Celeste, Churchill’s 9-year-old daughter, knelt down by a puddle of water formed from the house’s gutter. Cupping her hands, Celeste scooped up water and tossed it a few feet across the grass toward the orange and yellow mums.
“What are you doing?” asked a curious neighbor.
“Watering the garden,” Celeste said.