Agri Director Praises Springfield’s Well Fed Neighbor Alliance for Inspirational Vision
Springfield, MO - It seemed odd to see almost no notice on the part of Springfield’s local news media when our State Director of Agriculture, Dr. John Hagler, showed up to honor both local citizens and non-profit success in their own city. However, that pretty much sums up what happened when Dr. Hagler honored Springfield and members of Well Fed Neighbor Alliance (WFNA) Galen Chadwick and Aubree Taylor, among others, at the Midtown School Garden near Cox North on Thursday morning.
Springfield’s 1,000 Garden Project’s creator Chadwick, and Director Aubree Taylor were honored that the name of Missouri’s 10,000 Garden Challenge was inspired by WFNA’s 1,000 Garden Project.
Hagler wanted to kick off Missouri’s 10,000 Garden Challenge at the site of the Midtown School Garden in Springfield because he considers Springfield the State leader of the “grow local” food drive.
“We have a whole staff who has just been dying for the opportunity to sink their hands into the type of initiative that could promote this very important effort all across this state, and when they stood there and heard the story of Ruell and Galen and Melissa and Aubree and all the people, what they’ve done, starting off with their 1,000 Gardens…we made a commitment to each other that we would start working together slowly but surely to take that kernel of seed of an idea and see if we could plant it ourselves for a greater effort across this State and we did that,” Hagler said. He credited Governor Nixon with stepping up to the plate to start the 10,000 Garden Challenge.
The President of WFNA, LTD Ruell Chappell had indicated an interest on the part of the MO Dept. of Agriculture in securing a local food supply and rebuilding a sustainable local economy in a comment at JackeHammer back in September of 2009. Chappell had just attended an Urban Garden Task Force Meeting in Springfield.
“I will be the first to cheer our city if the right of the people to grow, own and do as they will with their food is upheld!!” Chappell wrote. “This thinking is in line with a new focus that can help secure our local food supply and rebuild a sustainable local economy. Springfield can be the first city in the Nation to go this far! The MO. Dept. of Ag is extremely interested,” he wrote.
Chadwick and Taylor had served on that Urban Garden Task Force Chappell wrote about. So had Director of Springfield Urban Agriculture Coalition (SUAC) Melissa Millsap. Millsap was instrumental in establishing the Midtown School Garden, along with Project Coordinator Lucy Howell. The school garden is a pilot project intended to be the first of ten school gardens SAC would like to install this year.
Millsap seemed as interested in building sustainable community as she is in a locally sustainable food supply.
“It’s (Midtown School Garden) not just a school garden, it’s a community, and a school garden. That’s the way it needs (to be) in order for sustainability,” Millsap said.
She said the cafeteria is not currently utilizing the food produced in the school garden, but it is getting into the mouths of the children. The kids are taking some of the fresh produce home with them, and it is making its way into the classroom. Middle schoolers are even cooking with the vegetables in their home economics classes, Millsap said.
“We’re not trying to push too hard (to get the food into the cafeteria) because I think that once people see how successful this program is, how much the kids enjoy this food, it’s just going to be a natural thing that takes place, and of course we’re supportive of that…. I think time will tell and people will adopt it,” she said.
As Ruell Chappell introduced Dr. Hagler Thursday, he noted the importance of fresh produce in the lives of children.
“The children that we are raising today may not live as long as we do because of obesity and the litany of things that result from that,” Chappell said. “It is important that we grow and we feed our children good food. It produces economic opportunity (and) jobs.”
Millsap identified some of the main partners of the Midtown School Garden as: Cox North, Caring Communities, Drury University, Midtown Neighborhood, the YMCA, and Childhood Obesity Action Group.
For Hagler’s part, if the local media in Springfield is suddenly averse to giving credit to WFNA members, he appeared unaffected by that aversion.
“It is an honor to be here in Springfield which is the hot-bed of garden activity for this state and, in fact, this region,” Dr. Hagler said. “You know Galen, Ruell, Aubree, Melissa and all the Councilmen and school folks that have gathered here today, I can tell you this,” he said, “I fully expect in one capacity or another to be standing here in a couple of years…and we won’t recognize what we’ve built because it will be that successful.”
Earlier in the morning when Hagler was making his point that everyone is vested in agriculture he had quipped his favorite statistic was that 4 out of 4 people eat.
“Everyone has a stake in agriculture. It is this state’s number 1 economic driver…it is something that each and every child, each and every family, each and every school, each church and each community can set root in, take a part in, and can build the future for tomorrow for our State, our cities and our country,” Hagler said.
If you would like to take the 10,000 Garden Challenge you can register at agrimissouri.com and enter for a chance to win a $500 gift certificate from Tractor Supply Company.
If you would like to view the three part video series of this event, go to wellfedneighbor.com and click on "community activity."
Disclosure: Jackie Melton is a member of the WFNA and is a caretaker of a Gateway Farm