The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture received just over $12,000 to build a fence to keep animals out of gardens used to supply fresh produce to the local food pantry.

“We want people to be connected to agriculture and land — that’s part of our mission,” said Billy Polansky, executive director for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. “By installing these permanent features inside of a city park at the Agriculture Park, we’ll be able to connect more people with their food.”

The gardens secured by the new fencing will primarily grow fresh greens like lettuce, collard greens and Chinese cabbage, among other produce like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and carrots. As most greens from grocery stores wilt before ever reaching the food pantry shelf, the center’s team brings fresh greens from their gardens to the pantry the day they are picked.

The funding comes from the Missouri Department of Agriculture through the Food Insecure Urban Agriculture Matching Grant which awarded up to $25,000 each to 11 projects. The grant is specific to urban areas for creating food insecurity improvement initiatives such as increased availability of food and growth of local economic communities.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life, which is often due to the lack of proximity and financial resources for food.

“The fewer people that can be food insecure is wonderful,” said Christi Miller, manager of Missouri Grown within the Missouri Department of Agriculture. She added, “We certainly hope that (these grants are) allowing more children to know where their food comes from, and their next meal, and not go to bed hungry before they go to school the next day.”

As the coronavirus pandemic creates economic turmoil, the need for financial aid to mitigate food insecurity is essential.

“I’d say especially recently, with the pandemic, a lot of people have either lost their jobs or been forced to quit because they’re staying home and taking care of their children,” Polansky said. “There is a lot of need right now for food assistance, especially with kids not being at school and not getting school lunch and things like that. You know, you add all that together and we have a unique need right now.”

The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture received funding from the same grant program last year, allowing them to build a greenhouse at the Columbia Agriculture Park, which was finished last week.

The center has donated 22,000 pounds of food this year, which is the most they’ve ever produced. The increase is mostly due to the first full calendar year of gardening at the newly built Columbia Agriculture Park. Polansky anticipates that the site should produce about 50,000 pounds of food every year.

Members of the Columbia community can get involved with the center by volunteering for a scheduled shift or donating.

“There’s more work to be done,” Polansky said. “There’s more fences to go up. There’s more seeds to plant.”

  • Fall 2020 State Government reporter. Studying magazine journalism and statistics. Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 573-882-5700.

  • Mark Horvit is the state government editor. Call me at 817-726-1621 with story ideas, tips or complaints.

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