Joy Amuedo volunteers with the Columbia Community Garden Coalition as a garden manager for the St. Joseph Street garden in Columbia, Missouri. She served two years as an AmeriCorps member with the University of Missouri, Kansas City-Institute for Human Development’s Community Support Navigators program, at the local host site, Boone County Family Services, mentoring individuals with disabilities. It was during this service that the St. Joseph Street community garden was created. Joy was instrumental in the startup and day-to-day operations of the garden, as well as being a wonderful facilitator for relationships between the people with disabilities she mentored and the neighbors and community members.
She loves to grow food and believes anyone and everyone can increase their access to healthy home grown food by growing it themselves. The community garden is the best way to do it in community with other people, all kinds of people with the desire to garden in common. As an AmeriCorps member serving people with developmental disabilities, Joy saw the creation of the garden as a wonderfully rich way for them to become involved in a mainstream community activity and do something fun and healthy alongside other members of the community.
People who might otherwise have not gardened successfully on their own received help and support to be a part of the community garden and experience the joy (and sweat!) of growing food and flowers. When they established the garden 3 years ago they went into it considering the accessibility needs of people with all kinds of disabilities. They built approximately 50 feet of almost waist high raised beds so people in wheelchairs and/or other accessibility issues could garden. The group learned a lot over the last two growing seasons and are now making improvements to the raised beds by repairing sidewalks and surrounding the beds with a good surface for wheelchairs, general safety and better accessibility to all sides of the beds.
All of the folks who garden at the St. Joseph garden are helpful to each other and there is a great climate of cooperation among gardeners of all levels of experience and ability. It is a beautiful thing to see. Another great aspect of this garden is collaboration with University of Missouri students with an organization called Sustain Mizzou. They are a fired up bunch of amazing young people who with boundless energy who have the issues of global sustainability front and center on their radar screens and see urban gardens as a tremendous way for people to increase their intake of fresh local foods and to become more connected with the earth. Their volunteers have been instrumental in the development of the St. Joe garden.
Joy has been able to overcome some of her own accessibility and confidence issues after a time of not being able or thinking she was not able, to garden. It has been an eye opener in a lot of ways and she never ceases to be amazed at how healing gardening can be for both body and spirit. She has grown up at the knee of an organic gardener but she learns something new every time she sets foot in the garden. The collaboration with the Mizzou kids and with all the people through her AmeriCorps service have helped Joy achieve and aspire to greater levels of service in her life. In addition, Joy was able to make contacts that led her to what she is doing now which involves increasing access to fresh locally grown foods for people with limited resources.
The growing season is the busiest time but there is work and planning to be done all year long. Joy served more in the development of the garden and continues to learn about being a more effective garden manager. She is better with the dirt than the organizing but Joy continues to improve and continue to surround herself with capable, committed people who are patient and helpful, encouraging and inspiring! It is indeed a community effort.
There is no better way to improve your own sense of self and to partake of the real joys of life than to reach out to others and to build stronger communities for all people. The benefits far outweigh any excuse you can come up with for not engaging in service, whatever it may be. Everyone can do something.