The Weekend Gardener
11:24 am
Sat June 25, 2011

St. Louis Sustainable Backyard Tour

This Sunday, June 26, is the First Annual Sustainable Backyard Tour--a free, self-guided tour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Homes on the tour showcase renewable energy, beekeeping, composting, vegetable gardens, native plants, backyard chickens, rainwater harvesting, keeping goats, using permeable surfaces, and more.

The tour was organized by Terry Winkelmann, co-owner of Home Eco General Store on Macklind Avenue in south St. Louis. She says the purpose of the tour is to "emphasize the 'do-ability' of sustainability." A range of yard sizes and locations show that "whatever your space is like, you can make it greener."

Winkelmann got the idea for the tour last year. "I was thinking about getting chickens myself, and  perhaps carrying chicken-keeping supplies and feed at Home Eco, so I put together a small tour of five neighbors who keep chickens in the immediate neighborhood of Home Eco," she says. "I was rather stunned when 150 people showed up at my door on a quiet fall Sunday. Because many of them asked about seeing examples of beekeeping, too, I began to think of the many ways a backyard could be functional, produce food, and be more fun than just mowing and watering."

Hoping to expand the tour next year, Winkelmann says she's looking for community leaders who will spearhead walkable tours within neighborhoods and arrange for biodiesel busses.

In the slideshow above, you'll see a preview of the tour, including the Oleskevich family's solar-panel-clad garage in the Shaw neighborhood. The panels supply half of the home's household energy and at times have their meter running backward as they send electricity back to the grid.

Another home, in south county on Old Tesson Road, has two large cisterns that store rainwater drained through gravel and fed into a pond that's so clean it has blue gill fish and crayfish spawning in it. This yard, owned by Scott Klein, also has several beehives. Klein gave a talk about native bees on the June 20 episode of Earthworms on KDHX. 

At a stop in Webster Groves, you'll meet Merryl Winstein who owns several goats and makes her own cheese. She now teaches cheesemaking classes in her basement where she has an elaborate set up for pressing and aging the cheeses.  She built pens for the goats, fencing for her garden and a large chicken coop by herself. Part of keeping goats and chickens for her over the past 18 years has meant struggling to help people understand the laws about keeping animals.

Down in the Carondelet neighborhood, Jacquelyne Aubuchon has a large yard divided with picket fences into a huge vegetable garden, a small orchard, and an area for chickens. Aubuchon grows about 25 different types of fruit and three types of mushrooms. She also has a cricket farm for fishing bait. With a degree in horticulture and an Illinois farm in her family since 1783, she's well-prepared for farming; she's brought her love of growing food into the city in an inspiring way.

To see these homes and more on the tour on Sunday, June 25, visit the Sustainable Backyard Tour website.