USDA funds, volunteer labor will allow food banks  in eight counties to receive locally-grown produce

“We live in a food desert,” Barry Mullins, resource development coordinator with the Missouri Ozarks Community Action (MOCA) commented recently while strolling through his organization’s Richland, Mo., community garden site. “We may not think of it that way but we have a growing number of small communities here that no longer have a grocery store and that is particularly hard on lower income families.”
Located along the Pulaski-Laclede County line, the Richland community garden features numbered raised beds that are offered for use to local residents to grow their own produce.
“Currently we supply everything they need – seed and gardening tools – to grow their own food. Healthier foods like fruits and vegetables are more expensive than junk food so we want to help people to grow their own produce and get more healthy foods into their diets.”
As a continuing part of that effort, Barry completed a grant proposal through the USDA this year for a high tunnel, a polyethylene cover stretched over a frame that forms a sort of unheated greenhouse, suitable for extending the growing season for many types of produce.
“Dan Silberberg of the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office walked me through the grant process and I have to say I was really surprised when we got it.”
Of the $6,000 grant, Barry explained that $4,100 paid for the high tunnel kit itself and the rest went for other associated expenses, but the tremendous amount of local support from various sources, as well as Barry’s attention to detail, are the real keys to the project’s success.
“We visited other high tunnels, and folks from the University of Missouri Extension people were very helpful. Local merchants like Lowe’s in St. Robert (Mo.) donated lumber and a local excavating business helped with the 11 dump truck loads of soil needed to level up the sight. A local Boy Scout of Waynesville’s Troop 202, Toby Barnes, made this is his Eagle Scout project and he, along with other Scouts, did ground work for the project and cooperated with MOCA’s Weatherization Department. Army soldiers from nearby Fort Leonard Wood also came on board to complete the construction of the high tunnel.
“We had a lot of donated labor and it really went up a lot easier than I thought it would,” Barry continued, referring to the actual construction, however, that sort of donated activity preceded the tunnel construction and continues.
Before the construction of the high tunnel, MOCA has made effective use of the community garden system, with raised beds assigned out to their individual clients. Even now, a stroll through those dormant gardening beds, revealed the remnants of okra, tomatoes and strawberries.
Barry is also thankful for the help of regular gardening volunteers who assist the current clients on a regular basis. He also has appreciated the cooperation of area businesses, like MFA who support the local effort.
“Our library here has an heirloom seed program in which they provide heirloom seeds to those who are interested and then they return seeds from their own produce at the end of the growing season. We also have a kids’ garden,” Barry said.
Barry indicated a separate growing area off to the far side of the garden that is being earmarked for young growers.
“We want to encourage the children to grow their own vegetables and learn about where healthy food comes from,” he said.
With that in mind, classes are planned using the new high tunnel to continue to teach young children the importance of incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their diet.
‘“This is my hometown,” Barry, who comes from a military family, concluded. “I know a lot of people who were willing to help and did but this would not have been possible without USDA’s help.”
The plan is to distribute produce raised in the high tunnel through food banks in eight different counties. NRCS has provided funding for 559 high tunnels throughout Missouri since 2010.


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