St. Louis Garden That Offers Free Produce Will Grow Bigger This Year
Ro Kicker realized a few years ago that keeping up with a large backyard was very time-consuming.
Last spring, Kicker all but parked the lawnmower, and with the help of volunteers, began transforming the Bevo neighborhood yard into a vegetable garden. They named it the Feed the People Garden Project to reflect its mission: giving away food.
This spring, the garden area will double in size to include a small orchard. But one thing that isn’t changing is the garden’s reliance on the honor system.
“There is no sort of gatekeeping,” Kicker said. “If you say you need produce, then you're welcome to come by and pick it at any time.”
Chickens and compost
Last year, Kicker and others created 17 raised beds and planted tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables. This spring, the growing area will double to include the entire yard — about 7,500 square feet, roughly the footprint of three large homes.
The expanded space will be used for pear, peach and apple trees as well as grapevines. Kicker will add a few chickens; the eggs are just a bonus.
“What I’m really interested in is the manure,” Kicker said. “It means free, natural fertilizer going forward for our garden that we will compost and be able to feed the soil, so that's kind of really my ultimate goal. Plus, the chickens are just really cute.”
The garden also offers composting buckets with laminated instructions to anyone who asks. Takers bring the buckets home and fill them with fruit and vegetable scraps, shredded cardboard and other items.
“Then they bring it back and drop it off and switch it out for an empty bucket,” Kicker said. “So that keeps us in supply of compost, and it keeps all that stuff out of the landfill.”
‘It feeds my soul’
Kicker is not sure how many vegetables the garden yielded last year. But it did produce more than they could give away. Much of the bounty went to an affordable-housing project called the Trans Queer Flat.
Kicker also wants to find an organization that will make meals from the raw vegetables and fruit and serve those who are hungry.
“So it’s not just, ‘Oh, here’s a box of produce,” Kicker said. “That idea is very appealing to me.”
The project needs volunteers in April or early May to help plant vegetables, many of which have been growing inside since February.
“I do a lot of starting from seed to save on costs,” Kicker said. “And a lot of our seed is donated.”
The garden still needs about $2,000 in donations to buy fruit trees and cover other expenses. That should be enough to get through the next growing season, Kicker said. In time, they would like to add a permanent greenhouse.
Managing the garden takes more time than mowing the yard used to, but it’s also much more meaningful.
“It really feeds me; it feeds my soul,” Kicker said. “It's something that I absolutely love, and I love to know that people are benefiting from it in a wide variety of ways.”
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL
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