COLUMBIA — After touring the garden at Oak Towers, 43 gardeners lined up on a chalk-drawn number 30 and looked up and smiled at the camera on top of the apartment building.
This was in celebration of the Community Garden Coalition's 30th anniversary. The coalition, which helps provide support for community gardens in Columbia and Boone County, hosted its annual Garden Cruise on Saturday.
During the event, individuals toured five community gardens in Columbia. The stops included gardens at the Broadway Christian Church, Ash Street Garden, Oak Towers, West Boulevard Elementary and the Unite for Health Community Garden at the Health Department.
Many community gardens across the nation began in the 1980s, said Bill McKelvey, president of the coalition.
"In Columbia, I think it was partly related to looking into ways to help elderly folks, those with lower incomes and people with disabilities have access to fresh food," McKelvey said.
When McKelvey became involved in 2005, there were only 10 gardens in the Community Garden Coalition. Today there are more than 1,000 people involved in 32 gardens in the coalition's network, McKelvey said.
The gardens are all independently maintained, but the Community Garden Coalition provides gardening advice and funding opportunities for gardeners.
The most growth has been in school and youth gardens, McKelvey said.
During the stop at the garden in West Boulevard Elementary's outdoor classroom, fourth grade teacher Becky Elder and former students Adeline Kraus, Tori Dooling and Arual Kuol shared what they learned in the past year with the visitors.
"We emphasize it's a classroom outside," Elder said. "Sometimes we're moving mulch or planting trees, but there's always some type of academics we tie in."
The students planted garlic and used it to make garlic butter, planted two evergreen trees and one dogwood tree and observed the types of birds that visited bird feeders the students filled with peanuts and sunflower seeds.
"I like to learn about the bird feeders and the types of food birds need for their beaks," Tori said.
The last stop of the tour was the Unite for Health Community Garden, developed three-and-a-half years ago through a collaborative effort of the Public Health and Human Services Department, Columbia Public Works, Community Garden Coalition and the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.
Part of the land is used by Public Works for stormwater education, and individuals also have garden plots. Last year, the Health Department decided to create a plot to grow tomatoes and peppers for families in the Women, Infants and Children program.
"We thought 'wouldn't it be neat to get families involved?'" said Maureen Coy, an employee at the Health Department.
There are currently five families from the WIC program working in the garden, and other gardeners donate some of their produce to the families in the program.
"The learning and community going on is really refreshing," Coy said.
Kathy Doisy said she's been involved in the Community Garden Coalition for three or four years and enjoys the sense of community it fosters.
"To me the point of this coalition is to get people to get to know each other, get to talk to each other," Doisy said. "It builds neighborhood. It builds community."
The gardens exist because people get together to make them happen, McKelvey told the group during a lunch after the tour, which included a birthday cake.
"That's a cool thing, when you think about it," McKelvey said. "There wouldn't be a coalition if there were no gardeners."
Supervising editor is Hannah Wiese.