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Jan. 10, 2013
By Philip Gruenwald, media relations assistant
To the casual observer, the in-ground gardens north of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Northwest Missouri State University just look like dirt. For Grace Becker, graduate assistant in the Department of Agricultural Sciences, though, it is a blank canvas.
This summer, students and community members will see what Becker, Associate Professor of Soil Science Dr. Jamie Patton, Grants Coordinator Terry Manies and other agricultural sciences faculty members envision: The People’s Garden, a produce and sensory garden open to the campus and community.
The project received grant approval from the Missouri Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which has granted $50,000 to the project, during the fall. Those monies will fund most of the building and construction materials. Northwest will provide additional funds and labor required for building and maintaining the garden, accounting for the remaining half of the costs in the form of in-kind contributions.
The project took root last May, when Becker sought advice from Patton for her graduate thesis project. Patton knew of a grant for collaborative projects that benefit the community and incorporate sustainable practices. When the People’s Garden is in full operation, it will meet all those goals.
“After preparing for this garden since May, it still hasn’t sunk in for me yet,” Becker said. “Until we break ground, it’s still just a concept on a piece of paper.”
All produce grown in the People’s Garden will be donated to the Maryville Ministry Center and Nodaway County Senior Center. Yet even before the first harvest, the garden will double as a sensory garden, providing visual and hands-on learning activities for community members. People in wheelchairs can pull directly underneath multi-leveled flower beds, which will be raised off of the ground 10, 20 and 36 inches.
“Because of Grace’s design and what she has included, there’s also the benefit of giving people who are mentally and physically challenged ways to actually get their hands dirty and do the gardening,” Manies said. “In the sensory garden, the sight-impaired can touch, taste, sense, feel and smell.”
To satisfy the grant’s requirement of sustainability, the garden will feature solar-powered lights, compost bins and recycled or repurposed building materials. Its hydration will also incorporate large rain-collection barrels and a drip irrigation system.
The collaboration aspect of the garden is vast. The People’s Garden has already received support or pledged participation from more than 30 organizations including the Boy Scouts of America, Nodaway County Community Services Inc. and Midland Empire Resources for Independent Living. Letters of support from community organizations, which the grant mandates, poured in and have been received by Agricultural Sciences faculty.
“The infrastructure pieces themselves will be built by students in agricultural sciences who are studying topics like agriculture mechanics,” Manies said. “These are skills that people have to know to be effective agriculturalists, so through this project they’re going to be able to get out there and do this stuff.”
The grant-writing process was a collaboration itself. Becker helped write the narrative, drew the design and set the budget. Agricultural sciences faculty elicited letters of support from the community. Manies and Patton managed the remainder of the process, having had experience with NRCS grants last year when Northwest received funding to host a covered crops workshop. Patton said the success of last year’s grant encouraged them to apply for this one.
“What I really enjoy about pursuing grants like these is getting students involved in the process,” Patton said. “We’ll be utilizing our horticulture classes and some of our agronomy classes to get those students involved in not only developing but implementing the garden as well.”
Patton said the garden will help local organizations provide food for Nodaway County residents.
“That’s what we want to focus on – providing an opportunity for those with lower incomes, those who are homebound or those who are really in need to access something fresh,” Patton said. “There’s nothing better than a tomato that comes directly from the garden. We want to not only provide healthy food, but tasty food as well.”
Patton and Becker are working with students in agricultural sciences to survey potential clientele and decide what vegetables should be planted. Though the grant has been written, reviewed, submitted and approved, Becker knows much of the work is still to come.
“My students don’t want books – they want shovels,” Patton said. “And this is going to give us an opportunity to combine books and shovels together.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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