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Community Gardens Sprouting Up Across the Ozarks

(Photo Credit: KSMU)

For a moment, try to imagine this: A deep red tomato hangs low on the vine in your own backyard. Kneeling down, you grasp it, feel its weight and warmth from long days spent basking in the summer sun. Plucking the fruit, you’re suddenly filled with joy, the satisfaction of reaping the reward of your own backyard bounty.  

It’s no secret that in hard times, people still have to find a way to feed their families. Economics are not the only factor promoting urban and community gardening, though.  Providing healthy food is absolutely on the minds of some people here in the Ozarks.  Several local community gardens are growing, leaving some people to wonder: what are the benefits of local and homegrown fruits and vegetables?

Darlene Steele is part of the Grant Beach Community Garden, a neighborhood garden working in cooperation with the city of Springfield. According to Steele, the greatest goal for community gardening in the Ozarks is to show people that it can be done without being overwhelming—and even with little experience.

 “This could be a huge benefit for your family, on many levels. It can give you fresh fruits and vegetables. It can give you time spent with your family outside, enjoying the great outdoors. It can give you skills that you will use for the rest of your life, and your kids will use for the rest of their lives.”

These skills can prove useful too, especially now, when economic hardship is still on the minds of many people.  You never know when you might need them, Steele said.

 “I see nothing wrong with learning to grow your own food and preserve your own food. Have a backup plan, so that if the worst should happen you might have a way to feed your family, at least on some level.”

Patrick Byers is the Regional Horticulture Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension in Greene County.  He says urban gardening can help to turn liabilities into assets for the community. Vacant lots can transform from an eyesore to a source of cheap and local food. Even kitchen and yard waste can be turned into great compost, recycling nutrients and enriching the community’s soil.

When communities plan to transform a vacant lot or a backyard, often the first question to be asked is: “What are we going to plant?”

 “There is just a huge range of vegetables that can grow in urban gardens. My advice is obviously grow what you enjoy eating, but plant some extra for your friends and neighbors.”

Byers said there’s huge potential for the region to make advancements in urban gardening. He says that the Ozarks has the land, water, and many skilled folks who are willing to share their knowledge of gardening with the whole community.

In addition to asking neighbors for help, there are great resources online.

 “For those interested specifically in urban gardens or community gardens, there’s an exciting publication called The Community Garden Tool Kit, which basically covers all aspects of establishing and developing a community garden.”

This toolkit can be acquired free of charge at the University of Missouri Extension’s office here in Greene County, or online at

For KSMU News, I’m Shane Franklin.