St. Louis Nonprofit Celebrates 30 Years Of Community Gardening And Outreach | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Nonprofit Celebrates 30 Years Of Community Gardening And Outreach

Dec 31, 2014

A St. Louis-based community gardening organization is wrapping up its 30th year with a record harvest.

Gateway Greening’s community and youth gardens harvested more than 190,000 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit in 2014.

Gateway Greening intern Ting "Bella" Liu shows students at Clay Elementary School in north St. Louis how to harvest peas.
Credit Gateway Greening

The nonprofit’s executive director, Mike Sorth, said the organization provides basic gardening supplies and assistance to neighborhood gardens, schools and youth groups.

“We have a number of staff members who work in the community garden program to provide horticulture knowledge and also to provide community development and community organization support,” Sorth said.

Although the gardeners take home most of the food they grow, Sorth said, an increasing number is giving some of it away.

"It could be that they grow out a couple of beds together to donate the produce to a local food pantry,” Sorth said. “But community gardeners are starting to think more often about having a community benefit come out of their project.”

Sorth said most of Gateway Greening’s more than 200 community and youth gardens are in St. Louis, about evenly split north and south of Delmar.

Map courtesy of Gateway Greening

The organization also runs a 2.5-acre vegetable farm in midtown, known as City Seeds. It’s responsible for just under 10 percent of Gateway Greening’s total harvest.

But Sorth said the real focus of City Seeds is its partnership with St. Patrick Center, a provider of services to the homeless.

Some participants get job training. Others, therapy.

“Often there are mental-health or chemical-dependency issues ― both drug and alcohol issues,” Sorth said. “And so they come to the farm not for job training, but as a part of their recovery plan, to get better by connecting with nature and receiving the therapeutic benefits of working outdoors.”

City Seeds graduate and current volunteer Mike mows the grass at Gateway Greening's urban farm, which works with St. Patrick Center to provide therapy and job training to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Credit Gateway Greening

For funding, Gateway Greening relies on grants and donations. Sorth said the nonprofit has to raise more than $1 million a year, about three-quarters of which goes to support its programs.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience