Mizzou Botanic Garden launches campus community garden space

Some of the 26 raised beds in Mizzou Botanic Garden’s Henry Kirklin Community Garden, located in University Village. ,

Some of the 26 raised beds in Mizzou Botanic Garden’s Henry Kirklin Community Garden, located at the former site of University Village. Space in the campus community garden is available to University of Missouri students, faculty and staff. Interested gardeners may contact project manager Daniel Yuhasz at dfy7dk@mail.missouri.edu.


Agricultural scientist George Washington Carver was born into slavery in 1864 near Diamond, Missouri. He became a household name in this country for his work in agriculture and conservation. A subset of his research was aimed at poor Southern farmers. He encouraged them to use crop rotation, advice that saved the agricultural economy of the rural South.

After a visit to the George Washington Carver National Monument, located in Diamond, Mizzou Botanic Garden (MUBG) Communications Manager Karlan Seville and MUBG Director Pete Millier, agreed that as one of Missouri’s historically important gardeners and researchers the work of Carver should be highlighted in the campus botanic garden.

After initial efforts to develop a Carver garden on campus, a plan which is still in the works, the pair approached rural sociology graduate student Leslie Touzeau, MS’18, AG-HE GR CT ’18, to help develop their ideas and increase the scope of the project. Touzeau’s keen interest in issues as manifested in food and gardening systems led her to envision and propose what has become Mizzou Botanic Garden’s (MUBG) George Washington Carver Community Garden Project.

“Everybody eats,” Touzeau said. “Everyone should have the same access to food and gardening.”

In her introductory materials to the expanded effort, Touzeau wrote, “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.”

MU Rural Sociology doctoral candidate Daniel Yuhasz discusses University of Missouri Botanic Garden’s Henry Kirklin Community Garden,

MU Rural Sociology doctoral candidate Daniel Yuhasz discusses University of Missouri Botanic Garden’s Henry Kirklin Community Garden. Yuhasz took over as project director when the project’s creator, Leslie Touzou, graduated.

“The project has really become so much more than we ever anticipated,” Seville said. “For example, Leslie worked with Mary Hendrickson, an associate professor of rural sociology at MU, to teach a course on race, class and gender as it relates to food.

“In her research, Leslie also learned about two African-Americans with historical impact on food systems here in Columbia. She proposed that the overall project be named after Carver and that individual community gardens be named after Henry Kirklin and Annie Fisher,* enterprising entrepreneurs who successfully made a living in food systems in the Columbia community.”

One of the two proposed community gardens on campus, the Henry Kirklin Community Garden located at the former site of University Village, saw its first full year of operation in the summer of 2020. The other, the Annie Fisher Community Garden, located at the Tara Apartments on the MU campus, is set to launch in the summer of 2021.

“I am more proud of this than anything the Garden has done because it is exactly what I think we should be doing: contributing to the research and teaching missions of the university by offering a research assistantship for graduate students, who then help to teach undergraduate students, the community and others about gardening,” Seville said. “We allow graduate students to take this idea and make it their own.”

Touzeau graduated and pursued opportunities outside of Missouri — but not before launching the first phase of the project, including the two campus community gardens.

Just as MUBG Director Pete Millier was looking for someone to take over the project, Hendrickson contacted Millier looking for an assistantship for rural sociology doctoral candidate Daniel Yuhasz. Hendrickson serves as his advisor.

“The timing was perfect,” Yuhasz said.


Henry Kirklin Community Garden

Yuhasz quickly took over management the George Washington Carver community garden efforts and began working where Touzeau left off.

He came to Mizzou by way of California, where he received his master’s degree from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, as well as serving as an instructor for 12 years. Yuhasz’ teaching and research for his graduate work focused on the examination of sustainability from a social perspective.

“My master’s work looked at alternative forms of agriculture, alternative farm economics and at 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.”

Yuhasz keenly supports a localized food economy and food justice, believing there are embedded injustices in current industrial food production systems, echoing some of Touzeau’s themes.

Community Garden participants Jacqui Jamieson & Olive Mitchell check for eggplant and ripe peppers in the garden's raised beds,

At top, Henry Kirklin Community Garden participant, Jacqui Jamieson, checks for eggplant in one of the garden's raised beds. Above, graduate student Olive Mitchell, her charge Alex and dog, Sebastian, look for ripe peppers. There are 26 raised beds in MUBG's Henry Kirklin Community Garden

Millier, who also has roots in California, said he is pleased to have Yuhasz on board.

“Mizzou Botanic Garden is proud to sponsor this project honoring George Washington Carver, someone I think of as America’s patron saint of horticulture. Carver influenced a young Henry Wallace of the USDA Research Service, that provided Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Prize-winning agronomist, the opportunity to work with wheat, which led to saving millions of lives. We are happy to have Daniel continuing the important work of food justice right here on campus.”

In addition to the 26 raised beds at the Kirklin garden, a water tank and a shed housing tools and other project accoutrements are located within the nearly 25,000 square foot space, enclosed by a tall mesh deer fence.

In its first full year of operation, Yuhasz said the Kirklin Garden is hosting six groups of gardeners made up of students, faculty and friends. Garden preparation over the past couple of years included adding compost and mulch to the beds to enhance growing conditions. This summer, a diverse assortment of vegetables, herbs and flowers is flourishing in the beds.

“Current gardeners are even venturing out beyond the beds and growing corn, pumpkin, beans, native flowers and sunflowers in the open area,” Yuhasz said.

“Gardeners come and go as they please,” Yuhasz said. “I'll see, on average, two or three fellow gardeners during the week. We'll just catch up each time we see each other. We also communicate through the GroupMe app.”

Alex, gardener Olive Mitchell’s young gardening companion, shows off some of their harvest from a raised bed in MUBG’s Henry Kirklin Community Garden.,

Alex, gardener Olive Mitchell’s young gardening companion, shows off some of their harvest from a raised bed in MUBG’s Henry Kirklin Community Garden.

Yuhasz, who spends about 15 hours a week in the garden, said he has plans to eventually plant an orchard in a large open space that would be “geared to the greater needs” of those using the space.

Coming from a California background, which has a very different flora profile, Yuhasz said that plant identification has been a learn-as-he-goes challenge, though he enjoys the detective work. He has been able to put some of the gardening techniques he picked up at the organic farms he visited into play at the Kirklin Garden.

“Most of what we’re growing now are hybrids, but my ambition is to grow more heirloom varieties in the future,” he said.

“You need to be curious and adventurous to 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. The community garden is a communal growing space. It’s an experiment. We’re learning from each other.”


*Henry Kirklin: Born into slavery in 1858, Henry Kirklin has the distinction of being the first Black instructor at the University of Missouri, albeit unofficially. His horticultural career began at a Columbia nursery owned by Joseph Douglass and eventually joined the staff at MU as a greenhouse supervisor. His grafting, pruning and propagation skills caught the eye of Horticulture Department Chair Samuel Mills Tracy, who invited Kirklin to take over the hands-on portions of student coursework in these areas. Racial segregation dictated all of Kirklin’s demonstrations occur out-of-doors. He hosted field trips to his farm for MU classes, demonstrating the innovative rain catchment and overhead irrigation system he created. Kirklin also owned and operated a very successful commercial fruit and vegetable farm.

Annie Fisher: Known as one of the best cooks in Columbia in the late 1890s, Annie Fisher was an African-American entrepreneur born in 1867. She worked for the George Bingham Rollins family and Sigma Alpha Epsilon as well as catering weddings and other events. A keen businesswoman, she was famous for her “old Missouri style” beaten biscuits, even serving them to President William Howard Taft when he visited the Missouri State Fair in 2011.