A taste of High Street: On-street herb garden offers healthy options to passersby

Ashley Varner, background, and Natalie Newville put extra dirt in and attach laminated name tags to wooden planters located just outside the Missouri River Regional Library. Varner, who's the Healthy Communities coordinator and Wellness Navigator has collaborated with Capital Region's Healthy Schools, MRRL and the Root Cellar to demonstrate how to grow herbs. This is done in hopes of inspiring people to grow their own food in an effort to slow the rate of obesity, which can cause an increased risk of many chronic diseases. Newville is the marketing manager at MRRL and jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this educational effort.

If you're walking past, you might just reach out and pick a leaf off a plant outside Missouri River Regional Library in Jefferson City.

Earlier this week, workers placed four three-tier planter boxes along the sidewalk outside the library. They filled the boxes with rich soil and planted herbs.

Now, chives, mint, parsley and rosemary, grown at Root Cellar, await picking by random people.

The planters are part of the High Street Harvest, a community collaboration between Healthy Schools Healthy Communities, MRRL and Root Cellar, that demonstrates how to grow herbs, said Ashley Varner, Capital Region Medical Center Healthy Communities coordinator.

A hope is the program will inspire people to grow their own food. The planters are intended to increase exposure to healthy foods like fresh herbs and vegetables, Varner said.

Her idea was inspired by Edible Main Street, a program that began in 2015 in Norway, Maine. That program has grown to 16 planter boxes along the street that contain items like peas, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

"I wanted to start with herbs," Varner said.

In the small Maine town - whose population is less than 5,000 - more than 700 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients have taken advantage of the chance to gather fresh produce. SNAP is the program formerly known as food stamps.

"That was my idea for putting it at the library," Varner said. "Several of those folks will visit the library."

She said inmates working in the Missouri Vocational Enterprises - consisting of work skills training programs provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections - made the wooden boxes that stand outside MRRL. Each of the boxes contains a different type of herb.

In all, inmates made seven planters. Plans are to place the remaining three outside the hospital so employees can create an herb club. However, if any other organizations wish to place planters outside their doors, Healthy Communities would gladly relinquish them.

Weatherproof, informational cards hang from each planter at MRRL, telling about the products growing inside and how to go about picking them. The planters also include cards suggesting recipes people may try, such as mint pesto, roasted squash with parmesan and fresh herbs, or a simple herb butter.

Varner said she's exploring what other products they may put in the planters in the future - such as edible flowers.

"We'll probably do some vegetables in the planters," she said. "We want to encourage the community to stop, (sample) and enjoy."