What A Hoot!

Fall marks the end of the growing season for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture’s (CCUA) urban farm, and it has a fun and memorable way to celebrate: its annual Harvest Hootenanny. This year’s Hootenanny, sponsored in part by Inside Columbia magazine, will be Saturday, Oct. 8 from 3 to 8 p.m. at the urban farm at 1209 Smith St.

The Hootenanny’s centerpiece is a hearty sit-down meal of locally sourced food, showcasing the urban farm’s produce, along with mid-Missouri produced chicken and beef. A Biergarten, live music, games, informal farm tours, live cooking demonstration and raffle will enliven the event.

Billy Polansky, executive director of the CCUA, explains the Hootenanny’s roots: “2010 was the first year of the urban farm. It was a crazy year and we couldn’t believe how much we had gotten done, and then all of a sudden it was fall. We thought, we need to invite people out here. We need to have an open house and show off what we did this year and really just celebrate the harvest.”

Beyond simply showing off its successful efforts, the CCUA had another goal — “getting people out to sit down and eat a meal together and walk through the garden and meet their neighbors,” Polansky says.

That first year CCUA staff and volunteers cooked its farm-raised chickens and vegetables on large rented grills. “We didn’t know what to expect,” Polansky says, “and 400 people showed up!”

As the Hootenanny grew, the CCUA decided to partner with the Columbia Area Career Center (CACC), beginning in 2014. It’s mutually beneficial for both parties.

“We try to match up what we’re doing with their curriculum schedule. Like knife skills are taught at the beginning of the year, so we have the students chopping up vegetables.” The students also gain practice breaking down whole chickens and serving.

Partnering is something the CCUA does extremely well. Besides partnering with the CACC, it partners with volunteers, giving them hands-on growing experience. With the Columbia Farmers Market, where it sells its bounty. With local schools, for educational opportunities. With local food banks, that receive the majority of the food it grows — over 8,500 pounds of produce last year. And finally, it partners with low-income Columbians to help them start and maintain gardens, through its Opportunity Gardens Program.

In that program, CCUA staff works with families, mentoring them for three years. There’s a graduation ceremony for the program at the Hootenanny, feting the 20-30 families who complete the program each year.

Polansky expects about 1,000 people to attend this year’s Hootenanny, and as always, they can look forward to a terrific time and a mouthwatering meal. This year will feature a feast of cooked greens, watermelon, a root vegetable medley, an entrée of barbecue chicken, bratwurst (made by the CACC students with meat from Patchwork Farms), hamburgers, a vegetarian meatball sub option with meatballs donated by Beyond Meat and apple crisp. All ingredients are sourced from the farm or local providers. Polansky proudly points out that the Hootenanny is “a zero waste event” with real plates, utensils and cups. “There’s a whole crew of volunteers washing dishes,” he says. Even the napkins are compostable.

In years past, the CCUA requested a donation of $10. This year, for the first time, Hootenanny tickets will be available at a variety of different price points, allowing people to donate as they desire. More information is available at www.columbiaurbanag.org/hootenanny.

Although the event is a fundraiser, Polansky says it’s much more: “It raises funds, yes, but I really like to focus on how good of a community event it is. There’s as much value in this event of bringing people together. We try to create an atmosphere where people are going to get together and meet with their neighbors and talk about good food.”