The Sparta Community Garden relies on volunteers to create, sow and harvest vegetables that will be shared with eastern Christian County residents. (Photo provided by Sparta Community Garden)

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People who live in Christian County will have more opportunities to fill their plates with fresh veggies this summer.

In Sparta, anyone who wanted to help attended a planting day on Saturday, May 18, at Roller Park. The new community garden will provide food and some fun in the garden for Sparta residents.

Near Ozark, a garden provides food to local charities. In Nixa, students are growing vegetables at the John Thomas School of Discovery, where a $300,000 grant funded construction of a greenhouse in 2022.

Those food sources are part of a growing trend of community gardens and co-ops providing food for people who may not have access to fresh produce or land where they can grow their own food.

Community Gardens popping up around the U.S.

These raised beds will be filled with vegetable plants after a planting day May 18 at the Sparta Community Garden at Roller Park in Sparta. (Photo provided by Sparta Community Garden)

Nationwide, about 29,000 community gardens are growing in cities and more are in rural communities, according to a report from North Carolina State University. In Missouri, more than 200 urban and rural gardens provide food for communities.

Ed Kucab, president of the Christian County Master Gardeners, is thrilled to see community gardens being planted in Christian County.

“There’s not enough of them,” he said. “Every city, in my humble opinion, should have some sort of community garden.”

Community gardens are grown on vacant lots, at schools and churches and in other public spaces. Roller Park, where the Sparta Community Garden is being installed, is a natural choice for a community garden.

That garden was started by Corey White, a mother of two and avid gardener who works full-time remotely as a corporate recruiter.

White was looking for a way to help her community when she began reading a book about the mental health benefits of gardening. When she got to the chapter about community gardens, a seed was planted that quickly sprouted and grew.

White posted about a community garden on Facebook, talked with the Sparta mayor, asked the park board for land and reached out to the Christian County Master Gardeners for advice.

These raised beds will be filled with vegetable plants after a planting day May 18 at the Sparta Community Garden at Roller Park in Sparta. (Photo provided by Sparta Community Garden)

Soon, White and a team of volunteers were building three raised beds on a 50-by-60-foot space at Roller Park. A fourth bed is planned for installation this fall. An additional four raised beds will be installed in 2025.

The food they grow will be donated to local charities, and anyone can harvest fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, beans, peas, peppers, herbs and other crops from the garden.

“There are no restrictions, no income questions, no names,” White said. “We just want to have a record of how much they take for grant purposes.”

Sparta garden could inspire others

The Ozark Community Garden is expanding from containers to land on a farm owned for the past 200 years by Arianna Russell’s family in rural Christian County. (Photo by Arianna Russell, Ozark Community Garden)

Kucab said he’s impressed with what Sparta is doing and hopes more communities in Christian County will organize community gardens. He knows of another one trying to get off the ground, but said it’s too early to share details.

“It’s strictly a community-boots-on-the-ground-starting-from-nothing group,” Kucab said.

Starting and maintaining a community garden is not easy.

Arianna Russell, who started the Ozark Community Garden in 2020 as a mental health improvement project after her brother was killed in an auto accident, is struggling this year. She was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in February and is undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

“It was just something to keep me sane and it’s grown into a project much larger than me,” said Russell, who donated more than 1,000 pounds of produce to charities in the garden’s first year.

A greenhouse under construction at the Ozark Community Garden will be used to start seeds in a warm environment before the danger of frost has passed. (Photo by Arianna Russell, Ozark Community Garden)

Since 2020, the project has grown to include chickens. Russell plans to add ducks and goats soon.

Anyone interested in helping can reach her at (417) 861-5649 or on the Ozark Community Garden Facebook page.

If you’re interested in starting a community garden near you, reach out to your local Master Gardeners group for gardening advice.

Missouri lawmakers in 2010 voted in legislation to support urban and small-scale agriculture and the Missouri Department of Agriculture offers grants for urban farming.

Roger the dog shows off land where vegetables will be planted for the Ozark Community Garden. (Photo by Arianna Russell, Ozark Community Garden)

Susan Wade

Susan Wade’s career includes nine years at the News-Leader in Springfield where she covered various topics, including Christian County, Greene County, higher education and many others. She has a bachelor’s degree in public relations and journalism and a master’s degree in communications from Missouri State University. She is a lifelong resident of southwest Missouri. Email her at More by Susan Wade