COLUMBIA — Neighbors in the First Ward tilled ground and chose plots in a new community garden Saturday.
Adam Saunders, a co-leader of the project, ran the rototiller and gave advice: You can plant greens but don't try tomatoes until late May.
To find a plot of your own, e-mail the Community Garden Coalition.
All 25 plots on Worley Street are filled, but you can get on a waiting list or check out other gardens.
You can also start your own garden. Adam Saunders, co-leader of the community garden project, recommended talking to neighbors and enlisting friends to work on a home garden.
"If you get down into the low 40s, upper 30s, they'll croak," he said.
The city donated the land for the garden, located next to the Health Department at 1005 W. Worley St. The land was donated after consultants from Unite 4 Healthy Neighborhoods convinced the Public Works Department that the garden would help, not hurt, with storm water problems, said Ian Thomas, executive director of the PedNet Coalition.
PedNet relegated $5,000 from a grant received in 2008 to its action team in charge of food production at home and in the community. The Community Garden Coalition and Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture are spearheading the West Worley Street Garden and other projects. The money will go to compost, design consulting, materials, fruit trees, berries and labor.
The Public Works Department donated the land and 50 cubic yards of compost. The department plans to contribute rainwater containers, or bioswales, which clean and filter rainwater.
For gardeners, a 40-square-foot plot costs $5 a year, and a 80-square-foot plot costs $10.
Saunders said community gardens embody the American spirit of hard work and self-reliance.
People grew food to sustain themselves before the Industrial Revolution, he said. During World War I people grew "liberty gardens." During the Great Depression they had "relief gardens," and World War II inspired "victory gardens." During a smaller economic depression in the late 1800s, Detroit sprouted "potato patches."
In Columbia, the Community Garden Coalition has existed since 1983, but in recent years, Saunders said he has seen the urban gardening trend grow.
"The land alone is not enough to make a garden," Saunders said. "You need the people, and luckily this is a vibrant community."
Kelly Smith is gardening for the first time.
"I've never done it before, but I'm willing to give it a shot," she said Saturday. She wore a red shirt and overalls.
She, her husband and her daughters live in the neighborhood and got interested when Mike Burden, one of the co-leaders of the garden project, knocked on their door.
Angela Falls and Josh Vander Veen marked their garden plot with a bright, smiling sun on a peg. The couple practices remodeling and crafty hobbies at home, so they decorated their plot with style.
Gardening is less familiar to them. "We don't know much about gardening, but we thought with everyone here they could help us out," Falls said.
She also said, laughing, she wanted to choose a plot far from the road in case they wound up with a "dead strip of dirt."
Whitney Lenci and Lara Hilliard have adopted twin plots and plan to share crops. Both married and moved to Columbia in the past year. They bonded over the fact that their husbands were in medical school and had too little time to spend with them.
"We call ourselves the 'Med School Widows,'" Lenci said, joking that they should create a reality show.
Still they expect their husbands to help with gardening in the summer when school slows down.
Lenci and Hilliard joined the community garden because they wanted more space to grow produce.
"In an apartment complex, there's only so many rectangular containers you can have on your back patio," Hilliard said, demonstrating how her husband has to step over garden boxes on the patio whenever he wants to barbecue.
Andruletta Uptegraft gardens for her family.
"I home-school, so this is a must-do science," she said.
Her 17-year-old daughter, Marissa Taylor, came Saturday, and Uptegraft planned to bring her 4-year-old son soon.
"He needs to get out here in the dirt," she said.
She used to be part of a Hmong garden in Wisconsin but connected with few people, she said.
About the garden on West Worley Street, she said, "It's actually a community."
Eloy Montenegro, a Spanish teacher, has gardened for years but wanted to work in a shared place.
He plans to grow tomatoes and green beans here, so he can can them for the winter. "It's cheaper than buying tomatoes," he said.
He's careful about what fertilizers he uses with root vegetables, and he doesn't buy certain kinds from stores, he said.
"If you're going to eat a parsnip, it has to be from the ground," he said. He dug out weeds with his hands.
Maureen Coy made war on the Bermuda grass on her 10-foot plot. Although the ground was tilled, roots remained. "They're really woody," she said. "It's going to make it hard for the crops to grow."
Coy, a co-leader in the project, works at Columbia Health Department next door, and she plans to work in the garden during lunch breaks.
She also hopes that women from the Women, Infants and Children program at the department come over to enjoy the garden and sample some of the produce in nutrition classes.
She hopes some women will take garden plots as well — one or two already have.
Coy said gardeners may face challenges with deer, bugs or fungi. But she looks forward to growth in the community and project, including the fruit trees and rainwater containers.
"It's sort of a whole system of how to take care of the earth and make it the best it can be," she said.