On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked about urban agriculture and food justice in the St. Louis region for our monthly Sound Bites segment in partnership with Sauce Magazine.
Sauce Magazine managing editor Catherine Klene, HOSCO Foods founder Gibron Jones and Missouri Coalition for the Environment farm and food director Melissa Vatterott joined the discussion to talk about urban farming in St. Louis.
Klene said urban farming includes growing crops in the city in “places you don’t expect,” such as vacant lots and rooftops.
“You don’t need 50 acres out in the country to start a farm. You can start a farm in your own backyard in the city,” Klene said. She added that “it’s more than just gardening,” since organizations like HOSCO use urban farming to create jobs.
Jones founded HOSCO (Holistic Organic Sustainable Cooperative) to help streamline the process of starting businesses focused around food. The organization is a community economic development cooperative founded in St. Louis eight years ago to help provide training, education and expand food operations.
“We try to make sure that people understand the importance of food and the importance of the local food system,” Jones said. “And how do we redevelop and redesign that local food system so that [there is] more [accessible] food for people.”
Expanding access to food addresses the issue of food deserts. The USDA describes food deserts as areas where there is “limited access to supermarkets, supercenters, grocery stores, or other sources of healthy and affordable food.” But Jones added that it is also when individuals don’t have the financial means to buy healthy food.
“You can be right next door to a Schnucks, and if your family can’t afford to eat the food and buy the food, then typically your house itself can be a food desert,” he said. Klene said there are nine food deserts in the city and 22 in the county.
Vatterott noted that the term “food desert” is not well-received by the communities impacted by them.
“I refer to these areas … as communities with limited food access,” Vatterott said. “These are often communities where there is lower income and, unfortunately in St. Louis, it’s a racial equity issue because we see more people of color living in these [areas].”
To combat the lack of nutritious food, Jones said there needs to be a “shift in thinking” away from depending on stores for food and learning how to produce the food locally.
Vetterott said that policy is critical for sustaining an equitable food system. Jones agreed and said he would like to see policy changes that expand efforts and encourage locally grown food, which would also help “decrease the cost of living.”
“Maybe an agriculture zone [where] we can start changing some of the zoning so people can grow foods in specific areas,” he said. He added that it can be as simple as allowing backyard chickens or using unkempt park lands and reusing them to grow food.
Klene said that addressing food justice in St. Louis is a complicated problem, but that there are multiple ways to become involved.
“Whether it’s donating and supporting local farmers, or just coming out and lending a hand when it’s time to put some seeds in the ground,” she said.
Where to get involved:
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