By Annie Meyer
You have probably driven right past the City Seeds Urban Farm, and not even noticed the flourishing 2.5 acre site in the heart of downtown St. Louis. Located in-between Market St. and Pine St, directly past the Highway 40 on-ramp lies over 6500 sq. ft. planted with everything from heirloom Green Zebra tomatoes to Purple Haze carrots.
The mission of City Seeds is to increase production and distribution of locally grown fresh food for low-income residents, increase self-sufficiency in populations experiencing addictions, mental illness, and homelessness; and provide neighborhood based nutrition and food preparation/preservation programs. City Seeds is federally-funded project by a USDA food security grant, which partners Gateway Greening’s horticultural resources and community gardening expertise with St. Patrick Center’s (SPC) social services and client network.
Essentially, we provide therapeutic horticulture for homeless individuals coping with mental illness and addiction and job-training for SPC clients wishing to pursue employment. Now in our second year, REACH (Re-entry, Employment, Assistance, Counseling & Housing) participants are also benefiting from this experience as a re-entry program following prison release. Further collaborators on this project include St. Louis Community College-Meramec Horticultural Department & Applied Sciences, and the Service Learning Department, Operation Food Search, New Roots Urban Farm, Master Gardeners, Public Policy Research Center, and University of Missouri, St. Louis.
SPC clients are paid a stipend to attend plant science and job skills classes taught by Meramec and SPC, to further strengthen their work/learning experience at the urban farm. The overall experiences on the farm instill qualities such as teamwork, leadership, responsibility, and self-confidence among the St. Patrick Center farmers, while improving overall nutrition and providing access to organic, affordable, locally grown heirloom vegetables in the heart of the city.
So where do all these tasty vegetables go? Well…hundreds of pounds of produce are donated to a variety of local food banks and transitional housing facilities. Also, McMurphy’s Grille (another SPC job-training program for the restaurant trade) will receive their choice of items. In an effort to generate revenue toward future client salaries, we sell at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. – noon from mid-May to October. SPC clients also work at the market, learning customer service, retail and business skills. Please come by to support City Seeds, meet the wonderful clients and volunteers, and check out our unique selection of vegetables!
Additional aspects of the City Seeds project include cooking demonstrations with Operation Food Search (OFS). During these events, OFS teaches how to prepare a healthful and filling meal from our day’s harvest, allowing everyone to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Field trips and featured speakers also serve to diversify the learning experience at the farm. This year the food distribution segment of the grant will begin, allowing rural Missouri farmers to subsidize and deliver fresh vegetables to designated families of our community garden network.
If vegetables aren’t your thing, there are other aspects at the farm that may peak your interest: a fruit tree orchard, native plant nursery, herb beds, and extensive shrub and perennial border plantings! So, if you’re interested in getting involved, volunteering time, materials or donations, don’t hesitate to contact Gateway Greening.
City Seeds is supported by the Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program of the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, USDA Grant #2005-33800-16482. Andrea (Annie) Meyer is the Urban Agriculture Coordinator at Gateway Greening. She manages the City Seeds Urban Farm, clients and volunteers, all vegetable greenhouse production, and works with the YMCA Growing Communities Grant. She has served as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Honduras working with sustainable agriculture, health, environmental education, and capacity-building workshops. She has a Bachelor’s in Urban Forestry and Art and a minor in Spanish from University of Missouri-Columbia.