Urban Farmers Are Trying to Bring More Green to St. Louis

Urban Farmers Are Trying to Bring More Green to St. Louis

Urban Farmers Are Trying to Bring More Green to St. Louis

In today’s world of sustainable savvy, more and more people want to grow their own food, but obstacles continue to stand in their way. Some St. Louisans are working to take those obstacles away.

By Allex Sammuli

January 3, 2017

 

Three stories above the streets of downtown St. Louis, hundreds of plants grow lush and green atop a self storage rental building. Concrete paths wander around raised beds, soil plots, and vertical growth experiments.

Mary Ostafi, an urban farmer with Urban Harvest STL, founded this space, St. Louis’ first rooftop garden. “The Food Roof Farm is just as much about growing a healthy community as it is about growing healthy food,” says Ostafi.

At Food Roof, community members from all walks of life farm and learn how to educate others about sustainable farming practices. In addition to enhancing biodiversity and enriching the community, Urban Harvest provides organic and nutritious food to St. Louisans with limited access to fresh food. “Urban agriculture brings communities together and spurs revitalization efforts already underway in our city neighborhoods,” Ostafi says.

See also: Corner stores bring healthy options to food deserts across St. Louis

A recent survey conducted by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) shows that if Missouri wants to support urban agriculture, current policies on food production may need to change.

“People are ready to do more,” says Melissa Vatterott, MCE’s Food and Farm Coordinator. Vatterott is working with a team of like-minded environmentalists to craft a bill that makes a variety of agriculture-related changes to current legal structures.

MCE collected data from 75 St. Louis neighborhoods and 854 residents. Almost unanimously, respondents (97 percent) said that they supported using vacant lots for urban agriculture. “The city wants to see that the land gets purchased to be put into productive use that will generate taxes, which makes total sense,” Vatterott says.

More than half of the survey's respondents said they already grew their own vegetables. About 77 percent of respondents would like to make it easier to acquire land for food production purposes (they cited barriers like land purchase price, the unreliable nature of the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) Garden Lease Program, and an inability to sell produce on site). About 63 percent of respondents also wanted changes to the city codes that limit animals to four per lot, which prevents people from raising numerous backyard chickens.

“I will never forget growing and eating my own carrots when I was five,” Anne Lehman says. “Growing your own food is the new punk rock.”

“While the benefits are many, I think the two most important to me are localized product and product quality,” says Anne Lehman, owner of Dirty Girl Farms, the first urban farm to be licensed in the 15th ward, which contains parts of Tower Grove South and East.

Lehman is a green thumb with a gung-ho attitude; she grows a variety of herbs, edible flowers, roots, and berries for local chefs and florists. Lehman and her husband also have their own line of ice cream, Audhumbla, and use eggs and other dairy ingredients from Buttonwood Farm and Rolling Lawn Farms Dairy in Greenville, Illinois, to create a “truly local ice cream.”

“We need to support a better food system,” says Vatterott. “There’s more transparency when you grow your own food or purchase from a community member. It’s rewarding!” Aside from the ethical, sustainable, and nutritious benefits of urban farming, she adds, the improvements on mental health and community building should also be taken into consideration.

And to Lehman, growing her own food means more than just preserving the environment. “I will never forget growing and eating my own carrots when I was five,” she says. “Growing your own food is the new punk rock.”

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