Tasty hot peppers, prolific indigenous flowers and unique ethnic foods are growing where there once was only a gravel parking lot.
With a lot of community donations and the work of staff and students, the Community Garden at the Lincoln University Dickinson Research Center not only has come alive but is part of a grander plan set in motion through a $600,000 USDA grant.
"This shows you can take an urban lot and do something productive with it," said Bob Channer, a research technician and sustainable agriculture educator.
For Lincoln University, the 2-year-old garden site allows for teaching, extension, research and relaxation.
As part of the university's homecoming celebration, the community garden will host a festival "A Taste of Lincoln" from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
It started with a simple question: "Where can we grow a tomato plant on campus?"
And now plans are being made for a permanent farmer's market location and even a cooking classroom.
Immediately after Homecoming Week, construction will begin on a new parking lot at the center to help with the beautification objective. Then, the fence currently along Chestnut Street will be set back between the gardens and the new lot for a more inviting feel to the community garden, Channer said.
"We want to make the community aware, so they know we are part of the community," Channer said. "What better way (is there) than to get them here and reach out to the neighborhood than gardening?"
Many of the stately homes in the neighborhood surrounding the university were at one time landscaped by the center's namesake. To maintain that tie, Channer said the community gardens will help re-establish that sense of being neighbors.
Jeffrey Hargrove, a soon-to-be graduate student, has carried over the community garden concept to local churches. And he's taken surplus produce to families in need - fulfilling one of Lincoln's missions "to serve the underserved."
"We want to reach out to the faithbased folks; they have a good handle on what's going on in a community," Hargrove said.
Nigel Hoilett and Mona-Lisa Banks, both agricultural graduate students from Jamaica, have enjoyed growing some tastes of home this season. Their Scotch Bonnett peppers are "real hot" and can't be found in Mid-Missouri stores. The same is true for the gungu peas that have been abundant so far.
"The best part is giving them away," Hoilett said.
But they have relished the familiar tastes in their Jamaican dishes this year. In the past, they would have to substitute cousins like kidney beans or jalapeÃ±o peppers.
Sunday red beans and rice have been really good, Banks said.
"We've been enjoying that real, strong, familiar flavor," Banks said.
Next year, Hoilett and Banks hope to expand their garden plot and add more plants from their homeland, such as callaloo, a type of greens.
Recycling played an integral role in the garden's construction. The earth was first amended with mulch donated by an area tree company removing trees in the area. Then local farmers contributed manure.
Remnants of an old barn were donated for raised bed material. And even walkways through the garden were made from reused sidewalks.
A mid-century greenhouse behind the small animal research building, across Chestnut Street from the gardens, will be restored to agricultural use as a permanent farmer's market location.
"We're proud this is all recycled," Channer said. "None of this is hard; you just have to ask. You'd be surprised, people really want to give."
"A Taste of Lincoln" Community Garden Festival will be 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at the Lincoln University Dickinson Research Center, at the corner of Chestnut Street and Leslie Boulevard.
Cheese-making demonstrations, sweet potato cookie taste trials, organic meat samples and a cooking demonstration by Chef Anthony from the Culinary Institute of America are among the unique offerings of this Cooperative Extension and Research event.
Other activities will include a plant giveaway, use of a solar oven, Missouri native plants, aquaculture display, healthy cookies and recipes, garden and eco-greenhouse tour, and bread-making demonstration.
Call (573) 681-5385 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.