Cassville contemplates community garden

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Monett sets example for getting started

With the advent of the health and wellness revolution, and as families increasingly look for ways to save money on grocery bills, Farmers' Markets and community food gardens have become popular in communities across the nation, from large cities to small towns -- and Cassville may soon join the masses.

Cassville already has an established Farmers' Market on Saturday mornings and Tuesday afternoons, but no community garden. Last year, a Southwest graduate who had returned home for the summer, proposed the neighboring city of Seligman start a garden to help provide healthy produce for families, but nothing took root from that discussion, due to barriers of funding, location and volunteers.

Britney Paul, president of the Barry County Master Gardeners, said a community garden has been on the group's radar for Cassville, and there have been discussions about it with the local University of Missouri Extension office, and library, but no specific plans have materialized.

"We had some ideas of where to place it, but those didn't work out and it was put on the backburner," she said. "So we haven't done anything about it yet, but we'd love to have one."

Paul said along with providing fresh, wholesome produce, a community garden could benefit local residents in a number of ways.

"Not many people have the space to put in a garden, resources, or the time to do it, and if you had a community garden, you have an array of produce grown, and you have group involvement versus just your own knowledge."

Location would be the first challenge, mainly because of persistent flooding issues in the city.

"Where to place the garden because of the flooding issues [is the biggest consideration]," Paul said. "One other place besides the library that was brought up was the school. But students are out of school when most of the veggies are being grown, as most come out after June, unless we had a fall garden, or students could help make beds in the spring, or put away veggies and do canning in the fall. Maybe someone would have an area to donate for a garden."

Establishing a system for the garden, and volunteers to maintain it, are other factors.

Paul said there are a number of ways local residents could help establish, and grow, a community garden, and reap the collective and individual benefits, one of which would include putting fresh, healthy produce on their table.

"For those who don't have time [or ability] to put in the physical work of a community garden, they could do planning work," she said. "In Monett's community garden, you log your hours, and each person gets produce from it. The benefit of a community garden is everyone puts time into it, versus just you."

Finding a funding source is another factor.

"My recommendation would be to present this idea to the city council," said Steve Walensky, Cassville public works director. "They would be the body to hear this idea and authorize any resources. This would be a spring-time start-up and I would not recommend having it in the flood plain."

Walensky suggested presenting a list of volunteers, location ideas and an estimated cost to city council members.

The city of Monett successfully started a community garden two years ago.

"The garden is part of our Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities effort," said Shawn Hayden, population health project coordinator for CoxHealth. "This initiative is funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health, aimed at reducing childhood obesity by 5 percent over the next five years. With the resources we have, a community needs assessment was completed, and it was discovered that there were limited resources for fresh, locally grown foods in the area. A community garden filled that void, and also created a community common place.

Hayden said grant opportunities are available through the American Community Garden Association, private grant funders, the USDA, and the MU Extension.

The city's 50-foot-by-50-foot plot community garden is located behind the Monett Community Church, and the land was provided by an in-kind donation by the church. A volunteer honor system is used to maintain the garden, and share its bounty.

"The garden is broken up into different beds that everyone works in," Hayden said. "All daily work is totaled on the white board located in the shed on site. All volunteer hours are logged, and every volunteer receives produce. While working, volunteers can pick whatever they want, it just must be recorded. Throughout the seasons there are harvest days and everyone picks produce together and it is split up, but there are no rules on how much can be taken."

Hayden said there have been no problems with theft or vandalism.

"Everyone has been very receptive to the community garden," he said.

This year, they are working on doubling the amount of produce harvested from last year, from 400 pounds to 800 pounds, of which a large portion will be donated to Crosslines and the Community Food Bank to provide needy families with healthy produce.

At first, recruiting volunteers was challenging, Hayden said, but as the garden grew, so did volunteers, perhaps due to residents seeing the benefits of the collective fruit of everyone's labors, the satisfaction of working in a garden, and the perks of taking home free produce.

"We are always encouraging those who are interested to come and visit the garden -- work in the dirt a little and take some free produce home," he said. "That normally hooks them."

Even so, the garden is just a small piece of HSHC goals, Hayden said, providing a physical and symbolic example of what can happen when residents come together to accomplish a goal for the betterment of their community.

"We are working in both Monett and Pierce City to provide more access to physical activity, greater healthy eating options, and really connect the communities to these growing outlets," he said.

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