CMS student hopes to organize community garden
A Cassville Middle School eighth grade student is taking the initiative that could provide area residents with a very unique opportunity. Drake Thomas is interested in organizing a community garden in Cassville.
"Drake's interest in gardening started when he was around 3 years old," said Tricia Thomas, Drake's mother. "All three of his grandfathers were gardeners so he has been around it since he was very little."
When Drake was very young, the Thomas family often visited Tricia's father in Iowa, who maintained a very large garden. During one visit, Tricia's children were eating pizza near the garden and one of the youngsters asked their grandfather what would happen if they planted the pizza crust.
"He told them that it would grow a pizza," said Tricia. "I believe that is where the fascination really started. From them on, we would grow a pizza every year."
During their visit, the children would place their pizza crusts in the garden. When they returned, they would dig up the spot where they put their crust and find a pizza.
"It was funny, because my parents would sneak out there a bury a frozen pizza in the garden just before it was time to dig up the pizza," said Tricia.
The game entertained all of Tricia's children, but Drake was especially interested in gardening. At the age of 3 he secretly planted tomato seeds in the Thomas' back yard.
"He planted those seeds around his swing set and all throughout the yard, but he didn't tell anyone," said Tricia. "We were so surprised when tomato plants started growing all over the back yard. We had to mow around them for Drake."
Tricia said Drake has been talking about a community garden for the past few years.
"He has always said that he would love to have a great big garden like his grandpa's," said Tricia. "He has a garden in our backyard, but with the dirt the way it is it doesn't ever amount to much. It would cost to much for us to haul in better dirt and fertilizer for just a small garden."
The extreme heat and dry weather that seemed to hover over southwest Missouri this summer took an even greater toll on Drake's garden this year, said Tricia.
"Each time we have driven by a vacant property this year, Drake has said that there should be a garden there," said Tricia. "He has told me that he feels the kids in the community should have the opportunity to have a real garden and learn to sell produce. His dream is to use the proceeds from the garden as a donation to a local charity.
"One day, he went out to his garden and found that the heat had caused all his watermelons to split," said Tricia. "He came back inside and said, 'That's it. I'm emailing the mayor.'"
Tricia thought Drake was just venting his frustrations, but three days later, she received a call from Cassville Mayor Tracy Holle, who invited the Thomases to have dinner with her.
After discussing Drake's ideas for the community garden, Holle encouraged the Thomases to attend an upcoming council meeting and present his idea to the Cassville aldermen, which he did on Sept. 6.
"Making Cassville a greener place and bringing the community together one plant at a time," said Drake during his presentation. "That is my mission statement for this idea. I want to see people of all ages come together and learn about growing."
According to Drake's presentation, the middle schooler feels a community garden could be used to unite the local community and offer a fun activity for families.
Although Drake does not have a location selected for the community garden, he is taking the initiative to meet with property owners regarding the idea. He is hoping to receive a land donation or a donation of the use of a piece of land.
Drake has also started researching grant opportunities that could be used to help fund the start-up costs for the community garden. He plans to apply for a Cassville Community Foundation grant next year.
"If we can locate a piece of property now, though, I want to start immediately," said Drake. "Charlie Jackson has offered to donate his time and equipment as needed to get the property ready. We will also be looking at lighting, security and attorney fees."
Drake hopes to find a piece of land that is around one-acre in size. He would like to establish 200-square-foot plots throughout the property.
"People would be able to help water and tend their plot," said Drake. "I have around a dozen people who have agreed to help with this project."
If Drake is unable to secure a land donation through a private individual, he asked the council to consider donating a piece of land for the community garden project.
"Drake has always been fascinated by nature," said Tricia. "He can find the beauty in nature no matter the situation.
"When he was just a little boy he loved his great-grandmother's African violet," said Tricia. "He would stare at it and touch it gently. He was so in awe of it. At Christmas, she gave him that plant. That was his first project, and he babied it. He has always had a green thumb."