Visiting the GROW Exhibit

By Billy Polansky

Mark Twain said “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

For the most part, I subscribe to this philosophy. At CCUA we pride ourselves in being novel and innovative. What we’re really doing though is making some strategic combinations of already good ideas. Personally, I get many ideas from my experience working with Heifer International. We all come with our previous experiences and draw from them.

A few weeks ago, Adam, Carrie, and I traveled to the St Louis Science Center to visit their new(ish) GROW exhibit, a one-acre agriculture demonstration outside of the museum. We met up with some friends from Gateway Greening, MU Center for Agroforestry and got an exclusive tour of the exhibit with the exhibit’s manager Maddie Earnest.

There are lots of demonstrations packed into this small space! Oak barrels, soil, fruit trees, wildflowers, rice, corn, chickens, cotton, vegetables, fish, water…the list goes on. We were interested to learn about how some of these demonstrations could be integrated into the Agriculture Park. Maddie made it very clear that GROW is a museum exhibit, not a botanical garden and not a production-oriented farm. GROW serves to further the mission of the mission of the Science Center.

Like GROW, the Agriculture Park will also be packed with demonstrations to educate visitors. A difference between GROW and the Ag Park is that the Park will have a strong focus on food production for the food pantry, whereas GROW does not have food production goals. This was fortuitous, because we’ve put lots of thought into the food production aspects, see Carrie’s blog post, but we’re just starting to dig into the details of the other demonstrations. We’ve created a design for the Ag Park’s Outdoor Classroom with Nature Explore, and we’re hearing some good ideas for programming from the surveys and focus groups as part of our Community Food Assessment.

We loved how GROW took the opportunity to demonstrate different methods of fruit production. They had apple trees espaliered on a fence, pears on a commercial wire system, persimmon trees in their chicken coop for shade, paw paws in a naturalized area, and your typical pruned dwarf trees lined up in a row. One of our goals at the Agriculture Park is to demonstrate how to grow your own food at home, and of all the components of GROW, I feel like this fruit tree demonstration embodied what we want to accomplish with our demonstrations at the Agriculture Park.

After a three-hour tour (that’s right Gilligan’s Island fans), our brains were swimming with ideas, luckily we had the car trip home to decompress and debrief. Like the renderings of the park you’ve seen. We imagined a circuitous walking trail throughout the park which would pass by the large production-focused farming areas, but also passing by a diversity of small demonstrations. The details of these demonstrations and how they are interpreted to the public is where our conversation focused: a model diversified backyard garden, a culinary herb garden, a native edible garden, a butterfly garden, berries, and orchard trees. (What do YOU want to see?)

For these demonstrations, GROW has a serious advantage over CCUA. They have the resources and expertise of a museum! GROW has teams of people who help develop their signs and exhibits. Their crew of engineers, carpenters, scientists, welders and writers make and update the museum’s exhibits year-round. This is an area where CCUA can team up with partners like Parks & Rec, MU Extension, and others to develop good signage and interesting demonstrations throughout our park.

I’m excited to continue exploring ideas for our park’s demonstrations, taking the feedback from our Community Food Assessment and our partners to dig into the nitty gritty details of these small demonstrations. With this ten-acre site, it is easy to focus on the big pieces like the MU Health Care Pavilion and our production-focused farming. However, in my opinion, it is these smaller “pocket” demonstrations sprinkled across the park which will truly make the park an interesting, engaging, and unique place for our town.

Many thanks to our friend Bill Ruppert, for bringing this group together, connecting the dots, and helping to turn the kaleidoscope of good ideas.   

Maddie Earnest explains features of the GROW Exhibit to representatives of Gateway Greening, MU Center for Agroforestry, and Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.     Photo Credit: Bill Ruppert

Maddie Earnest explains features of the GROW Exhibit to representatives of Gateway Greening, MU Center for Agroforestry, and Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.

Photo Credit: Bill Ruppert

Billy Polansky