Oct. 6, 2020
Contact: Kenny Gerling, firstname.lastname@example.org
As the air gets colder and the days get shorter, the Henry Kirklin Community Garden, located on the former University Village site, is quieting into an autumn lull. In the spring and summer, the garden is an active place just off the popular MKT Trail. Now, sunflowers droop and brown — well past their prime. Meanwhile, closer to earth, peppers and eggplants still ripen, waiting to be picked.
It’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of Columbia, just steps from the heart of campus.
The Kirklin Garden was first planted in June 2019, but quickly faced difficulties such as a lack of water and damage from foraging deer and groundhogs. In response, permanent water tanks were acquired, a fence was installed and the garden became fully operational last April, said Daniel Yuhasz, a third-year rural sociology doctoral student who manages its operations.
The garden now spans nearly 25,000 square feet — featuring 26 raised beds and two water tanks. An on-site shed contains tools, hoses, seeds and other project items provided for participants. Currently, it hosts six groups of gardeners made up of students, faculty and campus community members who have planted a diverse assortment of vegetables, herbs and flowers.
“Current gardeners are even venturing out beyond the beds and growing corn, pumpkin, beans, native flowers and sunflowers in the open area,” said Yuhasz, who spends about 15 hours per week in the garden. “It takes a special kind of student to want to build gardens with us and work the land. It’s not always a perfect effort but it feels like such an accomplishment.”
A growing initiative honors overlooked legacies
The Kirklin Garden is part of Mizzou Botanic Garden's larger George Washington Carver Community Garden Project — developed in 2017 by Mizzou alumna Leslie Touzeau to provide inclusive, welcoming agricultural spaces to members of the Mizzou community. Using vacant property on the western edge of campus, Touzeau hatched a plan to combine her interest in agriculture with the issues of race, class and gender.
To Touzeau, it’s a matter of accessibility. “Everyone should have the same access to food and gardening,” she said. “Everybody eats.”
The project is named after George Washington Carver — a Black man born into slavery in 1864 near Diamond in southwest Missouri. Carver went on to become a world-renowned scientist and a household name for his work in agriculture and conservation.
Carver is not just the project’s namesake. Touzeau said his philosophy and research continue to inform the work done at the gardens. “The five pillars of George Washington Carver — conservation, innovation, service, scholarship and justice — will guide this project as it seeks to engage the university community in a vital conversation about our food systems,” Touzeau wrote in an introduction for the garden’s website.
The Kirklin Garden is named for another notable Missouri figure, Henry Kirklin, who was born into slavery in 1858. His career began at a Columbia nursery, and eventually he joined the MU staff as a greenhouse supervisor where he became renowned for his horticultural skills. Kirklin was also highly regarded for his teaching skills, even though the segregation of Black educators kept him out of the classroom and from formal recognition as a faculty member.
An additional space located at Tara Apartments is set to launch in the summer of 2021. This garden will be named after Annie Fisher, a Black chef and entrepreneur who was born in 1867 and earned great success and recognition in the Columbia community.
Handing over the reins
After Touzeau graduated in 2018, Yuhasz, who had just arrived in Columbia from California, stepped up to cultivate the next phase. “The timing was perfect,” he said.
Yuhasz received his master’s degree from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona where he served as an instructor for 12 years. His teaching and research focused on the social aspects of sustainability — making him the perfect successor to Touzeau.
“My master’s work looked at alternative forms of agriculture, alternative farm economics and localized food economies,” Yuhasz said. “I spent eight months visiting 32 organic farms around the country. I consider the farms to be a social movement grounded in qualitative principles of improving lives and agriculture.”
Mizzou Botanic Garden Director Pete Millier said he is pleased to have Yuhasz on board. “We are happy to have Daniel continuing the important work of food security right here on campus,” Millier said. “Mizzou Botanic Garden is proud to sponsor this project honoring George Washington Carver — someone I think of as America and Missouri’s patron saint of horticulture.”
As planning continues for the Annie Fisher Garden and beyond, Yuhasz looks forward to continued collaboration with student, faculty and staff gardeners.
“The community garden is a communal growing space,” he said. “It’s an experiment. We’re learning from each other.”
For more information about the George Washington Carver Project and how to get involved, visit the project’s page on the MU Sustainability Office’s site.
Henry Kirklin is believed to be the first African American to teach at the University of Missouri. Kirklin was a Missouri native, born as a slave on June 6, 1858, in Boone County but freed as a young boy before the Civil War. A knowledgeable and dedicated horticulturist, Kirklin became known as the local market gardener, selling produce from a wheelbarrow he pushed around town. After Kirklin left the university, horticulture students would travel to his farm to learn from him there.
Annie Fisher was many things: a famous cook, caterer and real estate investor. Fisher became Columbia’s most successful independent businesswoman despite obstacles to African American women in her day. Fisher was a Missouri native, born Dec. 3, 1867, in Boone County to former slave parents.
Fisher earned national praise for her famous “Old Missouri Style beaten biscuits” that were served to President Taft in 1911 during his visit to the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. In 1890, she began work as a cook for George Bingham Rollins and, later, Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Missouri. Seeing a growing demand for chicken dinners, she opened a restaurant, the Wayside Inn, from where she began a successful catering business. Her business venture allowed her to buy a home in Columbia and 18 rental houses.