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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

Pumkpins, melons and corn

Jacob Fenston

Columbia has lots of community gardens, and several school gardens. But school-community gardens? On Tuesday at Ridgewood Elementary, the school and community worked together to start planting the city's first community garden at a public school.

Near the back of the sprawling schoolyard lawn, fourth grader Erin Robinson wielded a shovel about her height, digging the first chunk of grass out of a rectangle that will soon become Columbia's newest community garden.

"I look forward to gardening and planting foods for people in need, and for lunch maybe."

The garden here will be split into 25 to 30 plots -- divvied up among grown-ups in the community, and teachers and their students.

Erin's dad, Sam Robinson, is with the PedNet Coalition, one of the groups working with Ridgeway Elementary to get the garden started. Robinson said as well as getting kids interested in growing food, the goal is to make healthy veggies available to people who maybe can’t afford the farmers’ market.

"I recall my dad having a garden in our backyard, and I lived in a suburb of St. Louis. I lived in poverty, but still, we had a garden in our backyard. I think it was out of necessity. My dad was a depression-era child, so he knew how to use his hands to feed himself."

Ben Tilley, the principal here at Ridgeway, came up with the idea to carve out an underused chunk of the schoolyard for gardening.

"It is part of our science curriculum, and we frequently look for great ways to engage students in activities they can write about or draw about or read further about. So this is a great way to engage students in reading and writing and math and science."

Health educator Maureen Coy, with the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services, said gardening can have a huge impact on both physical and mental health for kids. "Physical health, when you're talking about eating fresh produce, you're talking about getting food that lowers the risk of heart disease. And from an emotional standpoint, it's really good to get out there and work on the earth, work on the soil."

There are more than 20 community gardens around Columbia, said Adam Saunders, with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. There are also several school gardens, but this will be the first to offer access to both community members and school kids.

Not everybody has access to parents who want to teach about gardening and health and ecology. So getting that into the public schools is a really great thing," he said. "When they see that carrots come from the ground, and see the seeds germinate, there's a lotta 'aha' moments that carry on with kids for a long time."