Amid the closely-packed houses north of Columbia College lies a small lot of green space. Despite its size, from this modest beginning, a huge urban agriculture movement is taking root. Volunteers come to the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture's Smith and Fay Production Farm from around Columbia to get their hands dirty and discover the process of growing local, sustainable food. Adam Saunders, one of the co-founders of Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, said the organization's urban farm is just one of many local steps in a national movement toward sustainable agriculture. “Urban farming just makes sense, because people live in the city, and people need food,” he said. “It makes people's food more accessible to them.” To inform the community about where its food comes from, CCUA offers many classes, tours and volunteer hours. The classes they offer teach skills such as gardening, preserving food and cleaning chickens. Saunders said he and his co-founders started the farm in hopes of bringing the community closer to its food.
“Our goal is for people to come out and see the garden, volunteer their time and, in the process, learn the fundamental skills and techniques of small scale, sustainable agriculture,” he said. Volunteers can expect typical gardening work, such as hoeing, planting and harvesting plants. Not only does a volunteer learn how to complete these and other tasks, but they are also taught how a farm works from the soil up.
Saunders and his team teach volunteers lessons on a variety of topics, including how to prevent soil erosion and what seasons provide the best climate for certain crops. MU senior Andrea Stone, who has an internship at CCUA, said there is a lot more to gardening than just harvesting plants. “I love CCUA’s goal of teaching people and connecting them with where their food is from, ” she said. “What they teach promotes investing in where you live in, being more connected and making choices that will improve your community.” The emphasis on community is apparent during volunteer hours, when volunteers and interns chatter away while clearing land for the next crop.
CCUA invites any community member into its farm to volunteer, take a class or take a tour to see how a real, local organic farm works. MU sophomore Matt Cunetto, a plant science major, has seen his fair share of farms. After working on two other organic farms and the university research farm, he said this farm is different. “It’s good to have a nice farm in the middle of the urban sprawl,” Cunetto said. “It’s important to try to eat local, because there are less preservatives and less fossil fuels to get food from farm to plate.” Many think the manual labor of farming cannot be enjoyable. The people of CCUA hope to help the community see the simple joy of working hard to create good food. “At school you get a grade for what you do," Cunetto said. "Here, you get something back for what you do. You can weed a whole row and look back and see what you did. It gives you a sense of accomplishment.”