CCUA was officially formed in the spring of 2009 as a 501c3 non-profit. However, there was significant groundwork in the years leading up this. In years prior, co-founder Adam Saunders organized sustainable ag projects with student group Sustain Mizzou, and co-founders Dan Soetaert and Bobby Johnson were innovating with home scale composting, gardening, and seasonal eating. When the three started meeting in the spring of 2008, a flurry of visioning and planning ensued.
The trio’s first project, organized under Sustain Mizzou, capitalized on a small University of Missouri Information Technology Innovations grant and a Service Learning Class with 12 students to establish a composting system that used bikes to haul waste food scraps from a MU dining hall to area community gardens. Compost was collected daily for 4 semesters and over 50,000 pounds of food scraps were composted in the 2 years.
CCUA’s first food production project, the CCUA Demonstration Garden, was put into production during the fall of 2008. This site was designed to demonstrate the diversity of crops that can be grown in Columbia, and to connect with people interested in gardening. The site is located on the corner of Ash and St. Joseph in downtown Columbia MO, and is owned by Mark Stevenson. This was Mark’s 4th community garden in Columbia.
During this same time period, Billy Polansky and Carrie Hargrove were honing their agriculture and education skills at the Heifer International demonstration farm in Arkansas. The pair joined Adam, Bobby, Dan, and others including Edwina King, Mitch Tucker, Billy Froeschner, Eric McDavid, Shelly Hubbard, Maria Kritikos, and others in the fall 2008. Within one short year, a solid community of people had rallied around a vision of improved urban agriculture and hands-on education in Columbia, MO. The historical 1860’s Harrell house on St. Joseph Street became the headquarters for the growing crew. During this time many of the early growing pains of the group were worked out. The business model of CCUA was crafted and it began to take form.
In the fall of 2009 CCUA approached Mark Stevenson about establishing a second production site on a much larger 1.3 acre tract just a few blocks north of the Demo Garden on the corner of Smith and Fay. Being pleased with the success of the Demo Garden, Mark agreed to let CCUA begin production in 2010. Over the coming months and years the production space and infrastructure was built at the Urban Farm. Volunteers, interns, staff and donations from business and the city were critical to the establishment the garden beds, the sheds, the irrigation system, the orchard fruit trees, the fencing and other improvements. Thank you to everyone who helped us build the farm!
The 2011 season was the first year with full time employees for CCUA. Careful cash flow analysis of vegetable sales, donations, landscaping jobs and small grants led to successful bootstrapping that enabled the business to grow. CCUA had three full time employees each making $10,000 per year. CCUA’s Opportunity Gardens project was established during the 2011 season with help from community partner PedNet and a grant from the Center for Disease Control to address childhood obesity. This project lead to a partnership with the Columbia Housing Authority to install raised bed gardens for residents and edible landscaping plantings of fruit trees and berry bushes. Coordinator Dan Soetaert was critical to getting this partnership and project established.
Production at the Urban Farm increased significantly in 2011 when Production Coordinator Carrie Hargrove took the helm of production logistics and planning. Market Coordinator Billy Polansky connected the production through to sales at farmers markets and restaurants. In 2011 CCUA successfully rezoned part of the Urban Farm to C-1 zoning to enable sales at an on-site market.
In the fall of 2011 two key grants (USDA Farmers Market Promotion and AmeriCorps VISTA) were secured with partner Missouri River Communities Network. These enabled CCUA to add another half time position to staff, raise full time salary to $15,000, and hire three full time VISTA volunteers in 2012. The increased capacity of the staff has led to major growth in 2012. CCUA’s Education VISTA, Heather Gillich improved the Urban Farm’s educational outreach to recruit more tour groups from schools, clubs and organizations. Outreach VISTA, Sam Pounders added energy to the Opportunity Gardens program through mentoring and garden installation. Public Relations VISTA Natalie Suntrup helped found the on-site “honesty market” and promote CCUA events.
Many improvements are on tap for the 2013 season such as a revised internship program, a second production site at West Ash Street, an effort to organize local food system stakeholders through the establishment of a Food Policy Council, and many other projects and volunteer opportunities.
Please contact us if you want to learn more about CCUA’s history and the critical lessons learned over the years. We love to share our story to teach and learn from others!
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