Getting to know your neighbors may be as easy as getting a picnic table, painting it turquoise, and setting it in your front yard.
Sounds a bit crazy, but the turquoise table movement that began in 2018 is still going strong nationwide.
The movement is intended to bring people together and turn neighbors into friends. Our Greene County Extension Council is trying to expand the number of turquoise tables in our county this year with a pilot grant program in the Republic area.
I first learned of the movement when someone recommended a neighboring focused book, “The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard.”
“Turquoise Table” author Kristin Schell had moved and was desperate to slow down and build connections in her new community. Schell had an ordinary picnic table delivered to her house but could not get it into the backyard.
So she put the table in her front yard, painted it turquoise, and began inviting friends and neighbors to join her. Life changed in her community, and she wrote a book about it.
Some communities have funded turquoise tables in public places. The most effective tables are placed with families that will make them part of their front yard lifestyle. The table does not do the work by itself, families have to do some inviting.
Republic is test ground for neighborhood tables
I am hopeful that during 2023, I will see some tables pop up in Republic and other parts of Greene County. According to the website supporting the book, turquoise tables exist in all 50 states already.
The Extension Council grant is designed to stir up some interest in families getting and using their own table. The grant will reimburse up to $300 in actual costs for a picnic table placed in the front yard of a home by its owner and painted turquoise.
In Republic, two turquoise tables have been funded inside the Owen Park Neighborhood this year. The plan is to highlight the tables as gathering spots and collect data on their use and effectiveness over the next two years.
The tables were delivered to yards on March 24. Over the next few weeks, I arranged times to meet the families, paint their tables, and affix an MU Extension nameplate. The tables were completed in time to kick off the Lawn Art With Neighbors exhibit on April 22.
One of the first tables requested and set up in the Owen Park area was for Xu and Megan Chen. The couple lives on Lee Street in Republic with their two sons. They said the grant for a turquoise table in their front yard came at a great time. As first-generation immigrants in the United States, they do struggle with neighbor connections.
“I like this picnic table idea so much. I have an open yard with a garden and a greenhouse. I always want to invite neighbors to visit us, build our friendship, and share our life. I hope there can be a good way to make my life full of love and shareable with others,” said Megan.
Community tables include Drew Lewis Foundation
Dr. Sarah Massengale, a state Extension community development specialist at University of Missouri St. Louis, worked on a turquoise table project with MU Extension in Dent County.
“Residents of Salem had a visioning process, and one of the things that came out was that it is hard to connect when you are a new person in a community,” said Massengale.
The visioning group decided to use turquoise tables to help people connect with services and resources in the community. Donors purchased and placed three turquoise picnic tables, two of which went on the square near the county courthouse.
“We ran some campaigns to encourage people in the downtown area to take lunch at these tables and build connections,” said Massengale. “We saw these tables as a small step toward building connections. That is what we need to be building in our communities.”
In Springfield, the Drew Lewis Foundation tried something similar by placing a turquoise table outside their offices a few years ago. The goal was to use the table to foster conversations with clients and others who visited the facility.
“The table has been a great addition to our site and is often used,” said Drew Deardorff at the Drew Lewis Foundation. “We appreciate your help in its addition.”
Get details on materials and more
In Republic, the Greene County Extension Council chose to go with southern pine wooden picnic tables from Lowes. They are paintable and can be delivered.
According to the Turquoise Table website, the recommended paint is Sherwin Williams “Nifty Turquoise” SW 6941.
Once painted and placed in the front yard, find ways to spend time at the table. Family meals and morning coffee can both lead to neighbor connections. We are asking each family receiving a MU Extension grant to communicate quarterly about the impact of the table.
In Greene County, we hope to see these tables become gathering spots for the neighborhood. With some time and research from these pilot tables, we will learn some lessons that can be applied across the region and increase neighborliness in a community.
MU Extension supports projects like our turquoise tables because social connections are essential to creating and improving communities. Building those relationships is not something you can pay someone to do. You have to make the time to be available and interruptible, but the dividends are priceless.
Learn more online about the Turquoise Table movement, or a similar effort known as the Neighbors Table.