Southwest grad pitches community garden
City of Seligman open to idea, wants more community involvement first
A Seligman native and 2012 graduate of Southwest High School is hoping to do something to make give back to his home town.
Cristian Sellars recently asked the city to consider planting and maintaining a community garden to provide surplus food for area families.
"I always wanted to do things for the community, but when I was growing up in Seligman, we didn't have much, and it would have been nice to have something in the community we could have went to for fresh produce, and it would have been less of a burden on finances," Sellars said.
Sellars, who attends Fontbonne University in St. Louis during the fall and spring semesters, where he studies pre-law social science, is home for the summer and had some time to spare.
"I plan on going to law school," he said. "It was a project that I knew I had the resources and time to give back to the community."
Sellars said he got the idea from the model used in urban gardening.
"It's taking land that's been downtrodden and abandoned and turning it into something that gives back to the community," he said. "I don't see how it couldn't work in a small community where people police themselves."
At the city council meeting, members were not overly optimistic to the idea, expressing concerns of vandalism.
Alderman Ron Corn said he was not trying to shoot down Sellars' idea, but trying to be realistic due to past history the city has had with vandalism.
"My feelings are that people like to shadow pessimism with realism," he said. "As long as there's no trust in the community, there's no point in doing anything positive. I feel like that was their stance."
"I think it's a great idea," said Brian Nichols, Seligman city clerk. "I never want to discourage anyone from doing things, but people like to tear stuff up and that's a big concern. I think it'd be a great thing, I just don't know if people here would be willing to come out and do it. But, they have a small group of people who are willing to come in and take care of it.
"Who would be responsible for it and what's the outcome going to be? What do you do after the food grows? Do you just set it out for anyone to take, or do you do a farmers market? There are still a lot of unanswered questions. I'm all for it if people want it let's do it, we'll make space for it if there's a desire for it."
Nichols recalled a local church, Mozark Fellowship Church, whose members share food from their gardens and suggested contacting them to see how the concept is working.
Alderman Michael Avers attends the church, and said he and other members have gardens and have been taking surplus produce to the church to give away for a couple of years now.
"They bring food out of their garden, so the people that don't have it, here you go," Avers said. "You're serving others with what you have."
In fact, Avers said he was planning to bring extra tomatoes from his garden to the church that night to share with whoever needed them.
After the city council meeting, Avers said members discussed the idea further, and were open to Sellars' idea, but agreed there needed to be involvement.
"If you're going to have a community garden, you need to get the community involved," he said. "We'd love to see something like that. We've got so many eggs in our basket right now with the city. The community is the people."
Nichols reiterated that the main issue that causes hesitancy for him is vandalism, such as what's occurred at the old city park.
"We've constantly repaired bathroom facilities, replaced toilets, and they've come back and busted them all to pieces," he said. "It gets discouraging after awhile. If people want it, we'll make it happen, and try to take care of it and make it as nice as possible."
Sellars said he plans to talk to churches in Seligman to try to garner community involvement, or possibly take his idea to another community in Barry County.
"There are a few avenues," he said. "I plan on going to another local community and speaking to their aldermen or speaking to local church leadership to band together to start something, or even just one. It doesn't have to start big. A lot of these usually start small. Once you get the community involved and vested, it starts to grow."
In his written mission statement presented to the board of alderman, Sellars writes, "With a community garden, low-income families that would normally struggle to get fresh produce on the table, can now have it. The idea is to have a locally-sponsored community garden that would work off volunteers and donations by individuals and businesses with fast growing crops [like] squash and green beans. No crop harvested is to be sold, as this is solely nonprofit, bur instead handed out to families who show a need for help."
In his proposal, Sellars asked to start with one, 6-by-12 foot raised bed garden.
"This would be enough space to plant at least two rows of 12 plants, depending on plant species," he said.
He proposed that the raised bed be located behind city hall because it would be an easily-visible location that is associated with the town hall, and it would make an easy marker if people needed to locate the garden. For materials, he proposed that local businesses in Seligman would donate the minimal lumber, soil and seeds needed to get started, to show community solidarity. As a community effort, the town of Seligman would, in effect, have its name on it, be directly involved, and thus, set an example for other communities.
During high school, Sellars was involved in student government, cross-country, track, field, basketball, speech and debate, and was president of student council his senior year.
Sellars said he felt somewhat set back, but would keep trying. According to his mission statement, his end goal is to be able to expand beyond one garden and serve more people.
"Ultimately I will move forward," he said.
For anyone interested in contacting Sellars about establishing a community garden to share produce and help provide food for low-income families, he can be reached by phone at 417-342-6409, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.