CCUA was officially formed in the spring of 2009 as a 501(c)3 non-profit. While a student at the University of Missouri, co-founder Adam Saunders organized sustainable agriculture projects with the student group Sustain Mizzou and co-founders Dan Soetaert and Bobby Johnson were innovating with home-scale composting, gardening, and seasonal eating. The three started meeting in the spring of 2008 and began a flurry of visioning and planning.
The trio’s first project, organized under Sustain Mizzou, capitalized on a small MU Information Technology Innovations grant and a Service Learning Class with 12 students. The project established a composting system that used bikes to haul 50,000 pounds of food scrap waste from a MU dining hall to area community gardens. A few years later, the MU Campus institutionalized a campus-wide composting program at Bradford Farm.
CCUA launched its first food production project, the CCUA Demonstration Garden, in the fall of 2008. This small neighborhood site demonstrated the diversity of crops that can be grown in Columbia and connected with people interested in gardening. Within one year, a solid community rallied around improved urban agriculture and hands-on education.
That next year CCUA approached Mark Stevenson, a local developer, about establishing a production site on a much larger 1.3 acre tract on the corner of Smith and Fay. Production on what is now the Urban Farm began in 2010. With time and energy from volunteers and interns, coupled with generous financial support from businesses and individuals, CCUA established garden beds, sheds, greenhouse, irrigation, teaching areas, and fruit trees.
The 2011 season was the first year with full time employees for CCUA. Vegetable sales, donations, landscaping jobs, and small grants led to successful bootstrapping that enabled CCUA to grow to three full-time employees, each making $10,000 a year. CCUA also began building Opportunity Gardens with help from community partner PedNet and a grant from the Center for Disease Control to address childhood obesity. Opportunity Gardens led 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 establishing this partnership.
In 2012, staff capacity increased through grants from the USDA, AmeriCorps VISTA, and a partnership with Missouri River Communities Network. These connections increased capacity and led to major growth. CCUA improved its Urban Farm’s educational outreach to recruit more groups from schools, clubs, and organizations.
Planting for the Pantry, a philanthropic campaign designed to bring nutritionally dense food to area food pantries was launched in 2013. In the first year, sponsors supported ten rows on the Urban Farm (at $1,200 per row).
The year 2014 was full of exciting milestones. Both the Urban Farm and the Kilgore’s Community Garden celebrated the 5th year of production. The Opportunity Gardens Program surpassed 100 families served over time, and worked with 94 families that year. In August, CCUA entered a strategic partnership with Slow Food Katy Trail to create CCUA’s Outdoor Classroom. The 5th Annual Harvest Hootenanny introduced exciting community collaborations while putting on a great event.
In the 2015 season, CCUA gained traction with even more new partners. A garden constructed from 480 milk crates was established at Lucky’s grocery and Planting for the Pantry surpassed its goal of 25 row sponsorships.
2016 brought a new, bigger vision to CCUA — an agricultural-themed public park. The vision is to transform an underutilized tract of public land into a park celebrating and promoting healthy lifestyles, access to healthy food, outdoor education, exercise, entrepreneurship, and public engagement. This Public-Private Partnership, known as Friends of the Farm, was formed with three local non-profits: CCUA, the Columbia Farmers’ Market (CFM), and Sustainable Farms and Communities (SF&C), and the City of Columbia Parks & Recreation Department. The Clary Shy Agricultural Park sits on a 10-acre tract adjacent to the Activity Recreation Center (ARC) and features a four-acre urban farm, a four-season farmers’ market building, demonstration gardens, an outdoor classroom, and a community center with event space and a commercial kitchen for public use. The City Council approved the project and a fundraising campaign, Build This Town, was spearheaded by CCUA. Construction is underway.
Phase One of the campaign raised nearly $3.8 million dollars from November 2016 through March 2018, enough to start construction of the market building and portions of the urban farm. CCUA started amending the first acre of garden on the new site in the summer of 2018 and is looking forward to the production barn and outdoor classroom completed for use in the spring of 2019. Phase Two of the campaign is currently underway to build the Community Event Center, Kitchen, Resource Center, Offices, and enhancements throughout the Urban Farm.
Through the continuing operations at the Urban Farm in 2017, CCUA grew and donated 17,355 pounds of fresh produce for local food pantries. 71 new vegetable gardens were built through Opportunity Gardens. 142 families, businesses, and agencies received help with their backyard gardens. 589 volunteers worked nearly 3,000 hours at the Urban Farm. Our PLANTS program taught food-focused learning activities to 8,549 local students, encouraging nutritious diets with fun cooking and gardening lessons.
Please contact us if you want to learn more about CCUA’s history and the critical lessons we have learned over the years. We love to share our story and learn from others!