Adam Saunders is co-founder and public outreach coordinator for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. He can be reached at 573-514-4174 or Adam@ColumbiaUrbanAg.org
Spring is rolling in ever so slowly here in Mid-MO, and that signals every gardener to mobilize into a complex sequence of stirring compost, prepping beds, planting seeds and much more. The excitement of a 70 degree March day in a garden is something special. This instinctual urge to work the dirt after a long cold winter just feels right. The feeling of accomplishment after a good session in the garden overpowers the sore, out-of-shape muscles. Looking out over the patch (whether a few square feet or a few acres) after the work is done brings up feelings of hope and optimism for the year.
It’s at these times in a garden we need to remember that gardening is a season-long marathon, and not a sprint to the first 90+ degree day. Defrosting winter’s grip is easy in the March sunshine, however, baking in the sun while digging up potatoes in July is not quite as easy. Nonetheless, planning for a season of abundance starts with the optimism of spring. The best gardeners learn to pace themselves over the season and make sure they reap the harvest regardless of the heat of summer.
The local non-profit Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture (or CCUA) helps folks get ready for spring planting in many ways. Volunteers and school groups visit the Urban Farm to see how we prep beds, plant seed and transplant from our greenhouse. We invite them back to see and help with the progress of those crops and watch the transition from spring to summer crops in late May and June. The long summer days produce rapid growth of crops (and weeds), transforming the bleak bare ground we see now. The late summer transition to fall crops in late August and September can seem counter-intuitive to new gardeners because the summer heat has not yet broken. However, to get the carrots, beets, cabbage and more ready before winter, a gardener must be looking forward and making plans.
This annual rotation of crops happens in the backyards of folks all over Columbia, and CCUA is here to help if you have questions or need assistance. CCUA’s Edible Landscaping service offers coaching and installation support for an hourly fee. The Opportunity Gardens program works one-on-one with low income families and social service agencies to get gardens built, and gardeners engaged. Our goal with these two efforts is to not just make gardens, but rather, gardeners.
People who are willing and able to garden at home are one of the bottlenecks in expanding today’s local food system in Columbia. We are blessed with large urban lots, ample space for community gardens, and friendly neighbors willing to share their space. Most residents of Columbia, like most of America, have taken steps of separation from our long held farming heritage, and a “chicken in every pot” sounds foreign in the fast food era. But fear not: good food will never go out of style - gardening is not and never has been a fad practiced at the margins. Gardening and the life of abundance it creates is human nature. It transcends race, income, age, and ethnic lines. CCUA is fortunate to see this first hand. We work with everyone from real estate brokers, to single mothers in cyclical poverty, from working professionals, to the working poor struggling from pay check to pay check. All of these people love their gardens. They are all feeling the excitement of spring and the optimism of putting seeds in the soil.
As the last throes of winter pass us by and you get an uncontrollable urge to soak up some sunshine, consider planting a garden this spring. If you already do, think about expanding your effort to include new crops like kale, beets, or black-eyed peas. The options abound and you are not alone in your pursuits. You are part of a long history of gardeners wanting to feed their family and participate in some of the most meaningful work possible. Please contact us if you need help or if you’d like to see the Urban Farm in action.