Community garden promotes diversity and food education
COLUMBIA - Students, staff and community members volunteered at University Village this morning to create a community garden, with the mission of fostering diversity.
MU graduate student Leslie Touzeau founded the project, which she hopes will also give students the chance to take a break from studying and learn about growing food.
"I pitched the idea for an overarching project that aims to shed light on marginalized voices in food and agriculture," Touzeau said. "So I named the project after George Washington Carver."
Many people recognize his name, she said, but some may not realize he is a native Missourian. The project is named after Carver, but today volunteers worked to build the Henry Kirkland Community Garden. Touzeau named it after the African-American slave born in Columbia who contributed significantly to the greenhouses in the area and taught gardening classes. She said his story has been lost to history, which is why she decided to commemorate his legacy with this garden.
A second garden will be built near the Tara Apartments, which will be named after Annie Fisher. A local entrepreneur, property owner and cook, Fisher also contributed to the community but has been forgotten in time, so Touzeau wants to honor her as well.
When she pitched this idea, there were no monuments on campus for African-Americans or people of color.
"I realized that with the way the climate is right now and after what happened on campus a few years ago, it is an important time to talk about race," Touzeau said.
She pitched the idea to the Mizzou Botanical Gardens as a place dedicated to George Washington Carver, and the project began.
"We started talking about community gardens and the importance of bringing people together around food, and how a community garden could help do that," Touzeau said. "Because everybody eats, so it doesn't matter what you look like - we can all get together and work and grow food together and eat together."
This spring she is teaching a course called Seeds of Equity: Race, Class and Gender in the Food System, which also inspired this project. In addition, her experience as a vegetable farmer for eight years before returning to MU for her masters contributes to her knowledge and passion for gardening.
After Touzeau pitched the idea, she was hired as a graduate assistant at the Mizzou Botanical Garden and began coordinating with other MU organizations.
Amy Eultgen is the adviser with the Sustainability Office, and met Touzeau about four years ago when she was an organic research farmer.
"When she pitched us this idea we loved it and wanted to do whatever we could to help with this project and ensure her efforts thrive," Eultgen said. This includes funding and promoting the project to encourage volunteers.
"I want to reach out to new organizations that we don't normally collaborate with to increase diversity and inclusion," Eultgen said. "I reached out to Tiger Pantry to see if they want to sponsor a few plots that their beneficiaries or volunteers can garden and then donate what they grow back to Tiger Pantry."
Eultgen said she also wants to reach out to undergraduate and graduate students to show them how their food is grown. She hopes campus dining will get involved too and that not only the MU community, but also the Columbia community, will come together.
"We're still in the preliminary stages, but together we're having very exciting conversations," Eultgen said.
Although there was a garden in this area several years prior, this is the first garden that is open to all MU students. In its first phase it will be a 50 by 100 foot plot with 36 four by 10 foot raised beds, but Touzeau hopes it will expand and thrive after she graduates.
"Since it is a community garden, I want it to embody aspects of the community, and I really think it should be student run," Touzeau said.
She said there are several students who have expressed interest, and there is plenty of room to expand and add additional beds in future phases.
In the first phase, each of the 36 beds will be available for a student or community member to rent. Seeds and tools will be provided for a refundable deposit and small fee, which Touzeau thinks will be about $10.
"Thirty six is not enough beds to accommodate every student on campus, but it is enough to start as we build an excitement for the project," Touzeau said.
To provide fundamentals on growing various produce, introduction to gardening workshops will be offered as well.
"We want people to know they don't have to be a sustainable agriculture major to be involved," Eultgen said. "Everyone eats food, and I hope that we can come together to discuss how our food is grown, where it comes from, and bring the community together in that way."
The growing season will begin in March and students can grow whatever they want.
"It's a way for people to learn about gardening and have a place of their own," Touzeau said. "Many people do not have a yard or space for a garden, so I hope this is a place for that."
It's also an opportunity to take a break from school and connect with the nature in the community.
"It's an a nice way for students who are on campus with their nose in the books all day to come out and enjoy the fresh air and get their hands dirty and experience something different," Touzeau said. "It's still part of the university, but it's a little more hands-on."
This particular site was available, had enough sunlight, was within a short walk from campus and a test of the soil demonstrated its ability to support vegetation. Touzeau jokingly said she chose this location because she was not allowed to use the open areas on the Francis Quadrangle.
Another important aspect is funding, which is where people like Eultgen and organizations like the Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, the Sustainability Office, Student Affairs and the Tiger Pantry become involved.
"The support from campus has been really wonderful; there has been a lot of interest and support from campus, and for that I'm very grateful," Touzeau said.
Though the project is still in the planning phase, which includes determining funding, applying for grants and fine-tuning details like bed fees and gardening workshops, Touzeau is confident about the upcoming partnerships.
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