St. Louis springs into gardening


May has come and spring has sprung! Rainy, warm days are here and vegetable and herb seeds are just waiting to be stuck in the ground. I love to garden, but it’s a hobby that got pushed aside when I became a college student. Unfortunately, dorm rooms and high-rise apartments don’t lend well to those of us looking to exercise our green thumbs. However, this spring semester, I finally found a way to get around that problem. I am a student in a course called “Sustainability in Food Systems.” It is a dietetics course that I chose to take because of my interest in the improvement of food systems. An ongoing assignment in the course is to plant a raised bed in the SLU garden on the south campus and to care for the vegetables until their harvest. I planted carrots and onions, and have thoroughly enjoyed going out to the garden, checking on them and watching their growth.

This experience of tending my own plot in the SLU garden piqued my interest in the availability of community gardens in the St. Louis area. I discovered that all this time, I could have been making use of a community garden to grow fresh foods. A great resource that I found is the Gateway Greening website.

According to their site, Gateway Greening is a community of gardeners, neighbors, friends and volunteers that believe in educating and empowering the community through gardening and urban agriculture. The website provides a plethora of gardening resources including locations of community gardens in St. Louis, how to get involved through volunteering, gardening tips and even help on how to start your own community garden.

Newbie gardeners should not be afraid to get their hands dirty. I started my gardening journey by watching my mom tend our backyard garden and helping pull weeds, and then progressed to my own windowsill herb garden. I started basil and cilantro seeds in little pots, and they are very easy to care for. There is something incredibly satisfying about ripping fresh basil leaves off of a homegrown plant and putting them directly into pasta sauce.

Now is a great time to plant beans, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cucumber and squash. It might be fun to plant something new or an old favorite veggie or herb. As long as the last frost has already occurred—which at this point it has—there is no danger of plants being damaged from the cold. In fact, my carrots and onions survived a heavy snow in March with no problem because they had not yet sprouted. The use of a community garden is one that may not only have personal benefits, but also many positive effects for others.

First, the term “food miles” refers to the miles that our food travels from the time it leaves the farm to the time it ends up on our plates. Foods with greater food miles make a greater carbon footprint. Food from community gardens has very few “food miles,” which means there are little to no carbon emissions used to transport the food, and there is also minimal food spoilage during transport. Another benefit of community gardens is that they provide healthy food to areas that may not have access to fresh and affordable produce. The health of communities with gardens can be extremely greater than communities with limited access to nutritious food.

Also, gardens in urban areas can provide a place for ecological diversity as well as increase the beauty of an area. Other benefits include economic stimulation, youth education and even crime prevention. The concept of urban gardening is a growing one, and one that individuals, communities and the Earth can all appreciate.

So, it is easy to get involved. Gardens heavily pepper the map of St. Louis. Pick the closest one and give them a call or a visit. The more people participating in community gardening, the healthier and happier we all could be.