Ever tried to buy fresh produce in an inner city grocery or convenience store? Good luck. Urban farming is one approach to addressing the “food deserts” so common in poor urban neighborhoods. St. Louis’ City Seeds Urban Farm goes a step further, though, and creates opportunities for “addicted and chronically mentally ill homeless” to build life skills and self-sufficiency, and to increase food security in the city.
Located downtown near Union Station, City Seeds employs clients of the St. Patrick Center, a non-profit that “provides opportunities for self-sufficiency and dignity to persons who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.” Combining hands-on farming with horticultural classes, the farm attempts to empower these people with skills they can use to build independence.
The farm’s workers aren’t the only economically disadvantaged people that benefit from its harvest, though. Vegetable seedlings grown in the farm’s hoop houses are distributed to community and backyard gardeners. And, the farm also serves as a distribution point for a pilot food distribution program that provides rural farmers with access to inner city markets: a low-cost CSA-type program provides weekly boxes of fresh produce to residents in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods for $7 a week.
I’ve been itching to write about City Seeds for some time after discovering them at the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market, and writing about the New Roots Urban Farm at Treehugger. I’m intrigued by them not just because of the “green” elements of there work, but also because they provide skills and economic opportunities for people bereft of both. Though I’m not opposed to government safety nets and other, more traditional approaches to addressing poverty, I believe efforts like City Seeds give impoverished people something much more valuable than financial support: a sense of dignity and control over their own economic lives. When local television station KSDK covered the farm several months ago, they profiled St. Patrick’s Center client Mary Fisk, who’s worked at farm. According to their report, City Seeds provided an opportunity for Mary to start turning her life around:
“To be honest with you, I didn’t think I would last this long,” Mary said. “My whole life turned around because of St. Patrick’s Center. I planted seeds in this garden, and they’re growing. Just like me. Look how I’m growing.”
Mary tends to the garden, cooks some of the food she grows, and has sold it at the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market. Mary also serves lunch at St. Patrick’s Center, and is proud of her cooking skills.
It’s a cliche’, but efforts like City Seeds provide a “hand up” for people like Mary, and to urban residents for whom fresh food is an expensive luxury. Urban farms won’t erase poverty, but by combining economic empowerment and sustainable approaches to food distribution, they can make a real difference in the lives of “farmers” and consumers alike.
Image credit: Gateway Greening