FROM READERS: Center for Urban Agriculture gets people involved with food production at its roots

FROM READERS: Volunteers thin carrots at Urban Farm

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Volunteering with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture

Heather Gillich is the education and volunteer coordinator at the Center for Urban Agriculture

The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture’s ever expanding programs exist to facilitate the development of local and urban agriculture food systems and their community, environmental, economic and health benefits. Our programs get good food where it needs to go and help educate the community about environmentally-conscious living through food. With a motto of “Food is Good!” and a passionate and hard-working staff, CCUA welcomes volunteers in all areas of the nonprofit.

Individual volunteers at CCUA hold positions such as Urban Farm Production Assistants, Opportunity Gardens Mentors, Outdoor Classroom Volunteers, Public Relations Team Members, Nonprofit Organization Management Assistants and many more! The positions are 2-6 hours per week commitments and are filled on a rolling basis as volunteers move on to different adventures. These positions are full of learning opportunities, and I strive to tailor these positions to an individual volunteer’s specific desire for involvement.

Volunteers at this level become vital to the programs (and staff) at CCUA and hold responsibilities such as managing meeting notes, creating educational signs for the Urban Farm, harvesting tons of vegetables, composting food and farm scraps and teaching PK-12 students the wonders of being outside!

For those with the spirit of volunteerism, but a less flexible schedule, we offer a weekly drop in workday at the Kilgore’s Community Garden at 700 N. Providence Road from April to October. We also welcome groups of five or more for individually scheduled Urban Farm Workdays.

Through our Local Food Opportunities Network (LFON) we work to connect our volunteers and others to more agriculture volunteer opportunities in Mid-MO. These opportunities range from helping with maintenance of school gardens to full-time internships on local farms. Our partners at the Missouri Young Farmer’s Coalition (MOYFC) help us connect interested volunteers with farmers and local food producers looking for help.

As the Education and Volunteer Coordinator for CCUA, I work with my colleagues to create genuine experiences for volunteers in urban agriculture. Volunteers are so necessary for the success of our programs, and the experiences that volunteers have with us reflect the gratitude that the organization has for their work.

We recognize the value of our volunteer’s time and work to make volunteers feel appreciated and welcome in our CCUA community. From the interview process to day-to-day work in the programs, our dedicated program staff creates space to build relationships and offer feedback. The work environment at CCUA is very welcoming, so we encourage folks to get involved whether they are experienced urban agriculturalists or novice volunteers. We welcome the opportunity to work with you!

Anyone wanting to get involved, as an individual or group, can visit our website, www.columbiaurbanag.org or email me directly at education@columbiaurbanag.org. Though many of our positions have concluded for the season, it is never too early to express interest, as we will begin filling next year’s positions in January.

Helping out at Kilgore Community Garden

Alex Talleur is an MU student and Garden Helper with the Center for Urban Agriculture.

My position is, as the title suggests, someone who helps in the gardens. I began volunteering with this organization as a class assignment, but after one day with my hands in the dirt, it became much more.

Thus far, I have dedicated my volunteer hours to Kilgore’s Community Garden. This garden was the idea of Kilgore’s Pharmacy, but within the year, CCUA was hired to manage the volunteers that maintain the garden. The garden is especially beneficial to the community because the produce that is grown at this garden is donated to the Nora Stewart Early Learning Center.

Each week I am responsible for a different garden bed. During these work hours, a team comprised of employees from CCUA, Kilgore’s and many members of the community meet to remove weeds that could suffocate the many fruits and vegetables and harvest pounds of food to be donated each week. I have always loved working in the ground, but knowing that everything that we do is so beneficial to the community makes it feel that much more rewarding.

Each week I am excited to see what is in store for me at the Kilgore’s Community Garden; I just have to go into this opportunity with a willingness to work hard and get a little dirty.

Making memories and finding a community

Allyson Junker is a Peace Corps Paul D. Coverdell Fellow at MU. She chooses to spend her required 10 community service hours a week working with the Center for Urban Agriculture.

My favorite part about volunteering at CCUA is the wealth of experiences I have had to engage with the community and meet so many people. As a Peace Corps Paul D. Coverdell Fellow at the University of Missouri, I am required to serve 10 hours a week with a community organization.

I say requirement, but this aspect of the fellowship has been an opportunity, without which I’d probably spend all my time in the engineering building. My two years in Columbia would have been a blur of calculus equations and chemical reactions, devoid of the rich memories and community integration I have found at CCUA. Sounds desolate, I know.

Instead, volunteering at CCUA makes me feel like I am a part of something, and I have grown to understand and appreciate the community through the relationships I’ve formed over the past year. I cherish the outdoor time, whether I’m weeding at Kilgore’s Garden or installing a new Opportunity Garden bed. I’ve learned so much from my many teachers at CCUA, the other volunteers, the Opportunity Gardeners and, of course, the knowledgeable staff. They have shown me new gardening techniques, traded recipe ideas and shared life experiences over a potluck dinner.

What never ceases to amaze me is how similar all gardeners, new and experienced, are. While I served in Peace Corps Senegal as an agroforestry agent, I had lots of interaction with farmers, who were always eager to show me their gardens and to have me taste their most prized produce. Although the plants and pests in their gardens may differ, I am greeted with that same enthusiasm and openness by Columbia gardeners that I’ve been fortunate to meet through CCUA.

But CCUA is about more than gardening! It is about creating a sustainable community. And that aspect is evident in the mosaic of backgrounds and diverse experiences of the clients, staff, volunteers and all the people that this organization has touched. Because despite all of our uniqueness, we are all residents of Columbia interested in filling our minds with knowledge and our bellies with good food.

The “Food is Good!” mantra unites everyone around a common idea, which Columbians can build on to develop a stronger, healthier and more integrated community. So open your eyes, ears and mouths and fill up on the smorgasbord of good food know-how brought together in the multifaceted programs at CCUA!

Connecting people with their food

Kelsey Grant is an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the CCUA, where she has served since February 2014. Grant helps support the Education and Volunteers programs at CCUA.

The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture’s mission is "CCUA exists to facilitate the development of local and urban agriculture food systems and their community, environmental, economic and health benefits." The dedication that I have towards CCUA’s mission is because I strongly believe and value the work and commitment they are trying to instill in the community of Columbia.

My personal mission is to have as much of a commitment to where my food is coming from as I can. I believe it is important to acknowledge the hard work that farmers undertake in providing healthy and safe food for the community to enjoy and eat. I try as much as possible to shop at the farmers market and support the local food system. I also believe it is very important to compost.

Since moving to Columbia in February, I have tried to save my food scraps and take them to the urban farm to decompose. This will help the environment in keeping food waste out of the landfill and also be a good place for it to be reused as soil at CCUA.

What I bring to my experience at CCUA is the shared passion and commitment that falls in line with CCUA’s mission statement.  What I get from my experience from CCUA is the reciprocated feel of hard work from the staff.  The staff at CCUA collectively has a vast knowledge of the broad subjects under urban agriculture. This always comes in handy for me in feeling like my work environment can also be geared towards a learning environment. The learning environment I feel is a safe place for me to clarify questions with staff to better perform my job.

Growing through volunteerism

Tracey Goldneris a is a Peace Corps Paul D. Coverdell Fellow at MU. She chooses to spend her required 10 community service hours a week working with the Center for Urban Agriculture.

Volunteering with CCUA is a lot of learning how to grow vegetables. It starts off slowly. You plant the seed and just wait for it to grow. I, too, started off like a little seed. I got to know the team over time and built up my relationships with the staff.

Looking back on the past year, I see that I've gained an immense amount of knowledge. But the learning did not happen overnight. I learned how to compost, garden and assist as needed. I understand that Bermuda grass is an insidious and stubborn weed that can grow roots as long as a garden bed and not just a beach-y sounding name. I also know that growing tomatoes is a little harder than one might imagine. I couldn't get any of mine to ripen on the vine this year. One of CCUA's staff members likes to call tomato plants the divas of the garden world. But potatoes will grow just about anywhere, she says, even right there on your kitchen counter.

I have also seen that while learning how to grow vegetables, teaching people how to grow vegetables and growing a community that is supportive of urban agriculture may seem natural in a farming state, it actually takes quite a bit to get the message out. Composting is fantastic, but it does take effort. So does growing vegetables. But I've learned that the effort is delicious and the community is certainly the best part. Hanging out with farmers all day lowers my blood pressure and takes my mind off the madness of grad school. It also helps me understand the origins and processes of my food.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.

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