Growing Columbia

Adam Saunders impacts the community through urban agriculture initiatives

When it comes to community development, Adam Saunders, B.S. Forestry and B.S. Statistics ’08, MA Forestry ‘10, is a man of many hats. He was a founding member of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture and serves on the state’s joint committee for Urban Agriculture. He’s also involved in several other community organizations, volunteers as a co-leader for PedNet’s Unite4Healthy Neighborhoods initiative and works for CARES as the curator of the urban agriculture group on the Community Commons.

Saunders co-founded the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture (CCUA) along with Dan Soetaert and Bobby Johnson. The organization first began in 2008, as a project of Sustain Mizzou, and by 2009 the organization transformed into the CCUA.

“We wanted to demonstrate the viability of urban agriculture in Columba and provide educational opportunities that would enable the growth of that industry,” Saunders said. “We have had a lot of fantastic support from the community and organizations here in Columbia. We have found some solid legs for our business and backing from various agencies and partners.”

The CCUA is comprised of three full-time workers and three full-time volunteers.

“We do a lot of advocacy in the community for policy change and awareness of the potential,” Saunders said. “I do grant writing and planning for the organization among a bunch of other things. Given the entrepreneurial nature of organization, we all wear a lot of hats.”

One of CCUA’s projects is called the opportunity garden. CCUA installs gardens for those with low-income and provides three years of mentoring, support, tools and growing guides that empower those individuals and give them the opportunity to have a garden in their own yard.

“The opportunity gardens, community gardens as well as other background gardens are important to Columbia because it provides numerous benefits to the citizens and community,” Saunders said. “These include access to nutrient dense fruits and vegetables, regular physical activity, group projects that build neighborhood ties and strengths, improved family interaction by gardening together and eating together, and the monetary benefits of saving food dollars for family. Urban agricultural also provides the city as a whole with low cost yet high yielding infill for empty properties.”

Columbia currently has an abundance of open space where urban agriculture could provide huge benefits if it was embraced on the vacant space. The city currently has close to 30 community gardens controlled by the community garden organization, Saunders said.

Saunders has worked part time for the past eight months for the Center for Applied Research and Environmental Systems, CARES. Saunders assists Robert Wood Johnson’s healthy lifestyle foundation by using GIS mapping software and data to help tell their local stories in an interesting way. He primarily helps them with the technical aspects and storytelling.

Depending on the audience, Saunders will choose a different method when making flyers or maps. For example, he may make a map that will help locals find community fruit trees. Ultimately, Saunders helps people think through what they are trying to do and give them ideas on how to use maps that can benefit the community.

“I am very fortunate, lucky and gifted, and I feel an obligation to give back to the community and try to make it a better place,” Saunders said in regards to his community involvement.

There are many ways to get involved with urban agriculture.  Those interested in the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture can contact them on their website,

“We have lots of volunteer opportunities with our groups and others in town,” Saunders said.

Saturday, Sept. 29, CCUA will host a Harvest Hootenanny from 3-8 p.m. at their urban farm at 1209 Smith Street. The farm party will include a large, fresh Missouri meal for about 1,000 people, live music, games and an auction. The event is open to the public and has a suggested donation of $5, $10 or $20 at the door.

Saunders received his master’s of forestry in 2010 from the University of Missouri. His master’s project focused on the economic analysis of an integrated timber that harvested solid hardwood products like lumber and also renewable energy fuel ships, woodchips that could burn. Saunders tracked harvests and analyzed their cost structure. He still does forestry consulting and works with land owners to develop agroforestry land/farm management plans.

Saunders’ favorite CAFNR memory is going through a forestry summer camp during undergraduate studies. The campsite was the same one he stayed at during his entire master’s project.