This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Back then, farmland stretched out around her with fields of alfalfa and corn. She could walk across the road to the Missouri River. And each spring, she’d hunt morels in the woods.
Jane Sehnert grew up in Chesterfield Valley, before strip malls and outlet malls and highway moved in. Today, the Valley’s a bustling and busy place, more concrete than green. But the treasure she remembers from growing up aren’t gone.
“You just have to look for it a little harder.”
And in a new book she contributed to, Sehnert, co-owner of The Smokehouse Market and Annie Gunn’s, found there’s still a lot of what she cherished.
In “Missouri River Country,” Sehnert writes about growing up above The Smokehouse. Hers is one in a collection that looks at the area through its many layers.
Dan Burkhardt, co-founder of Katy Land Trust, worked with 60 contributors, including local chef Gerard Craft, Gov. Jay Nixon, Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, writer William Least Heat-Moon, as well as the St. Louis Beacon’s own Bob Duffy, telling stories about the river’s past and its present. Burkhardt will appear at a book signing for “Missouri River Country” from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Essays in the book look at old and new agriculture, Burkhardt says, grapes and wine, the confluence, duck hunting, waterfowl, food, art and history.
“The Mississippi is the one that gets all the attention,” he says. “It’s like the teacher’s pet because it gets to flow by the Arch.”
But just eight miles away flows the Missouri.
“It’s out of sight,” he says.
Burkhardt and his wife, Connie Burkhardt, have worked hard to bring the region into people’s sight, with the Katy Land Trust and Magnificent Missouri, a nonprofit that works to raise money for area conservation and environmental organizations. The book has been brewing for a year and a half, and proceeds from its sale will go to the Katy Land Trust and Magnificent Missouri.
The purpose of the Katy Land Trust is to get people to conserve the land that’s there, Burkhardt says.
“To get people to conserve, you’ve got to convince them that there’s something out there worth conserving.”
Being part of the book has reminded Sehnert of the things she loved growing up, the quiet forest and hunting for mushrooms. And it’s shown her different perspectives and unknown histories of the Missouri River.
“I hope this will make people aware and appreciate the river and the bounty it’s providing,” she says.
There is now, she thinks, more focus on caring for the river, more people aware and willing to preserve and conserve what’s right here.
And that’s not just one thing. It’s not just agriculture or history or wine. It’s all connected. The book, says Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden and a contributor, helps people see the whole picture.
“... Otherwise we tend to take things part by part, this subdivision, that destruction of some wild lands or agricultural land, and pretty soon, step by step, there’s nothing left,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Beacon. “If we want a comfortable, beautiful environment, and a city surrounded by lovely country that nurtures our spirit and is environmentally sustainable, we need to think of the whole region – and the lower Missouri River is one of the most beautiful areas we have.”