The herb garden on the street offers healthy options for passers-by

If you walk past, you could just reach out and pick a leaf from a plant outside the Missouri River Regional Library in Jefferson City.

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

Now the chives, mint, parsley and rosemary, grown at Root Cellar, are waiting to be picked by random people.

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

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

His idea was inspired by Edible Main Street, a program that started in 2015 in Norway, Maine. This program has grown to 16 planters along the street that contain items like peas, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

“I wanted to start with the herbs,” Varner said.

In small town Maine – with a population of less than 5,000 – more than 700 beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program took the opportunity to pick fresh produce. SNAP is the program formerly known as Food Stamps.

“It was my idea to put it in the library,” Varner said. “Several of these people will be visiting the library.”

She said inmates working at Missouri Vocational Companies – consisting of vocational training programs provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections – made the wooden boxes that are outside of MRRL. Each of the boxes contains a different type of grass.

In all, the inmates made seven planters. There are plans to place the other three outside the hospital so that employees can start an herb club. However, if other organizations wish to place planters outside their doors, Healthy Communities will be happy to waive this.

Weather-resistant information cards hang from every planter at MRRL, showing what products grow inside and how to pick them. The planters also include cards suggesting recipes people can try, like mint pesto, roasted squash with parmesan and fresh herbs, or simple herb butter.

Varner said she is exploring other products they might put in planters in the future, such as edible flowers.

“We’re probably going to do some veg in the planters,” she said. “We want to encourage the community to stop, (sample) and enjoy.”

Terri S. Tomasini