COLUMBIA — Over the summer, Andruletta Uptegraft and her 17-year-old daughter, Marissa Taylor, decided to conduct a "Magic School Bus"-type science experiment with their community garden plots.
They planted tomatoes, squash, potatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions, eggplants, corn and cabbage in their neighborhood's new garden. But rather than tending their vegetables regularly, they opted to let nature take its course.
"It kind of got out of control," Uptegraft said.
Mother and daughter tried raising their own food on the Unite 4 Healthy Neighborhoods community garden that was established on a half-acre on the west side of the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services parking lot at 1005 W. Worley St.
The Unite 4 Healthy Neighborhoods group working on food production used grant money to prepare the ground and asked for $5 donations for each of the 10 4-by-10-foot plots and $10 for the 16 4-foot by 20-foot plots.
The donations were used to buy tools and a picnic table. It was also designed to foster commitment, Michael Burden, who helped organize the garden, said.
The gardeners were from surrounding neighborhoods and included health department employees and clients of Women, Infants and Children, which provides food stamps under certain conditions.
The gardeners planted their crops in late April and early May, but the July heat took a toll on their produce.
“People were, what I would say, moderately successful,” said Maureen Coy, a health educator with the department and head of the food production group. “A lot of us had not had gardening experience before, so we were kind of learning as we went.”
The garden now has a water hydrant that helps keep the plants properly watered during tough summer months. Gardeners had to lug pails of water to and from their plots this summer.
There were a few plots in the garden with fall crops, and others were putting their gardens to bed for the winter.
Though most people kept their own produce this year, Coy said that next year the health department plans to ask gardeners to donate some of their crops to clients of Women, Infants and Children who attend the department’s nutrition classes.
Some of the money for the obesity efforts has also gone toward planting fruit trees and berry bushes on a portion of the land next to the garden, which belongs to the city's Public Works Department.
"It's hopefully removing that barrier of cost and access to those healthier, especially high-in-antioxidant-type fruits to get those in more people's bellies," Burden said.
Overall, Burden said, the garden is helping connect people to their food, strengthening relationships among neighbors and creating an outlet for exercise.
"Statistics show that people aren't eating as many fruits and vegetables as they should or maybe not purchasing them," he said. "If somebody has the opportunity, and they're provided the know-how or they already have the know-how to grow some of their own food, they're much more likely to use that food in their cooking."
Other stories in this project:
- Columbia socioeconomic status influences food choices and consumption
- Safer neighborhoods lead to a more active, vibrant Columbia
- Projects aim to make healthy food options more affordable
- High school students learn to promote healthy, active lifestyles
- Chicago, Fresno promote selection of healthy alternatives