St. Louis has made it a little easier for residents of one ward to buy land for urban agriculture.
The Land Reutilization Authority, which manages the vacant lots and buildings owned by the city, endorsed the pilot program last week. It allows residents of the 26th Ward, which is north of Forest Park, to buy vacant land for raising crops or animals at two-thirds or less of market value.
“We’re starting in the 26th Ward because we saw the interest was there in 2016, and we’ve confirmed it with community engagement, and there are unique circumstances in the 26th Ward that suggest if it can work here, it can work in other wards,” said Melissa Vatterott, food and farm director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.
The coalition is managing the pilot program, which has strict guidelines. Potential farmers must prove they have growing experience and show that they have been engaged in the neighborhood before wanting to farm there. They must also show they have the necessary money, then complete the project within 18 months and remain on the land for three years.
The guidelines were due to the ward’s experience with an existing urban farm operation, said Tosha Phonix, the coalition’s food justice organizer.
“The issue in that ward was that someone was in the ward composting, and it smelled so bad that residents in the immediate vicinity couldn’t use their backyards,” she said.
But residents remained open to the idea of having agriculture in the ward, Phonix said.
“One of the residents wants to do a farm school to be able to teach people urban ag in the community but also make it an economic benefit to contribute to the community,” she said. “Looking at this pilot program, it gives the opportunity for communities to really be in control of their food systems. They’ll no longer have to wait or ask for a grocery store to come in their neighborhood. They won’t have to depend on corner stores.”
There is no timetable for rolling the program out citywide, but Vatterott said she is optimistic it will expand.
“The LRA has an abundance of vacant parcels, and their number-one priority is to get those parcels purchased and into permanent, positive use,” she said.
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