COLUMBIA — Smoke billowed from the grill and music blared as friends and families waited in line to enter this fall's Harvest Hootenanny.
The hootenanny, an annual fundraiser for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, was held Saturday at the Urban Farm on Smith Street.
While the event featured old-fashioned games, a live auction and treats such as roasted chestnuts and grilled squash, it also served as an opportunity for people to learn about the nonprofit organization that aims to create a local sustainable food system.
Every half hour, staff members from the center led tours around the farm.
Farm manager Carrie Hargrove offered helpful tips to curious gardeners on her tour. She led the group to the farm's supply of Cornish Cross chickens, which are raised solely for meat consumption, as well as the produce the farm plans to harvest for the fall and winter seasons.
Since it opened in 2010, the Urban Farm has transformed from an empty lot to a thriving garden.
"Our mission is to prove that urban agriculture is economically viable," Hargrove said. "We now have three salary positions, and we've created a lot of jobs in two years. It's totally doable."
She also explained that the farm's harvest sales have almost tripled since last year.
Patrick Covert, who hopes to someday start a farm of his own, began volunteering at the center to gain knowledge and skills.
"I love the community here," Covert said. "I came here looking for people connected to the earth and the neighborhood, and that's what I got. I've made a lot of good friends."
Many regulars to the farm turned out for the event. Warm smiles and friendly hellos were exchanged, many between neighbors and farm staff. Children played hide and seek in rows of perennial crops while their parents sampled drinks from the Broadway Brewery and the St. James Winery.
Hargrove explained that, although attendance is not kept, she thought there was an increase in turnout.
A frequent customer at the farm's weekly market stand, Nancy McKenna came to the hootenanny and admired the work of the farmers.
"I love looking at the beautiful gardens," she said. "All the work they've done in two years is unbelievable."