This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: June 5, 2008 - KINLOCH - Many of the "Garden Boys" had their crops in the ground when "no trespassing" signs went up. Those signs said who the neighboring developers are, but it wasn't clear to the gardeners who owned the land and whether the garden could stay.
The Garden Boys have been working the land on North Hanley Road south of Bradfield Drive for decades. They received word in late April that their access to it would be limited. The North Park Partners, which are building on the land adjacent to the garden -- put up "No Trespassing" signs in May.
Chad Richardson, director of marketing and sales for the partnership, said that the signs were put up for safety reasons.
"We don't want them venturing too far east into the areas where we're working," Richardson said. The development will go on for years and encompasses about 550 acres. It will be offices, light industrial and commercial buildings.
Although North Park put up the signs, it will not demolish the garden as part of the project. It can't because most of the land is owned by Lambert-International Airport. It's part of a runway protection zone.
Curtis Verner, one of the Garden Boys, put in his first crops in 1980. "Airport told us as long as we kept it clean, we could have a plot out there," the 62 year-old Florissant resident said. "I kept my plot clean and everybody else did and they didn't have to hire someone to keep it clean."
Since then, gardeners have put in cabbage, okra, tomatoes and butter beans among other crops. This year there will be limited harvesting due to the development. Verner, himself, didn't plant anything. Next year, he said he was told the garden will be closed off completely.
Richardson said crews would stake off the area's boundaries and try to interfere with the garden as little as possible.
"We're working directly with them to limit our impact on the garden," Richardson said. However, there will be some times when the ground won't be accessible as excavation work proceeds.
While the developers are working with the garden, the final say about its existence rests with Lambert. Spokesman Jeff Lea said the airport has no plans to interfere with the Garden Boys or to use the land.
"From our standpoint, there are no immediate plans to change the status of that property," Lea said.
Gwenne Hayes-Stewart, executive director with Gateway Greening, said that the St. Louis area has been lucky that developers are usually willing to work with community gardens. Gateway Greening is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping community gardens.
Gardens often attract development to areas and other cities have seen major clashes.
"They're kind of a happening thing," Hayes-Stewart said. "Hopefully, you don't run into people chaining themselves to the fence."
Communication is a key to avoiding conflicts as developers and gardens often share the goal of revitalizing places.
"Gardens attract people to a neighborhood," Hayes-Stewart said. "Where it gets nasty is when the developers just spring [a project] on them and that's a shame. People need to communicate."