Greening the STL Map Room

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Gateway Greening staff members worked with STL Map Room Site Coordinator Emily Catedral to mark current St. Louis LRA locations as part of their contribution to the STL Map Room project.

This week the Gateway Greening staff found a new way to highlight school & community gardens throughout St. Louis City – by teaming up with the STL Map Room project!

STL Map Room is a collaborative project between COCA (Center of Creative Arts) and The Office for Creative Research. On March 3, the partnership took over the shuttered Stevens Middle School in St. Louis, MO to create the St. Louis Map Room: a community space for creating and exploring original, interpretive maps of the city that reflect the personal stories and lived experiences of its residents.

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Gateway Greening Youth Educator Meg Holmes marking school garden locations throughout St. Louis City.

Last Thursday several Gateway Greening staff members spent the morning working with Emily Catedral of the STL Map Room to create a 10’x10’ canvas map of St. Louis City which our experience as urban agriculture advocates in the city.

It was a powerful experience as Catedral worked with staff to pull up a range of map data dating back to as early as the late 1800s and covering a range of topics: public transportation, residential and industrial zoning, racial distribution, public income and healthcare census records, and more. By adding a selection of school and community gardens throughout the city and projecting historical map data over top, it didn’t take long to observe how the locations of currently existing community gardens often correlated to St. Louis City’s zoning and financial policy decisions made as far back as the early 1900s.

After a great deal of debate and discussion, our staff narrowed down the list of possible data points that could be included to focus on current LRA land distribution, existing public green spaces, and a selection of school and community gardens throughout the city. The Gateway Greening map has joined others created by schools, non-profits, and the general public from around St. Louis and will be on display at the Stevens Middle School until April 9, 2017. Afterwards, the maps will be displayed in various locations throughout St. Louis for an undefined amount of time before being added to the City Archives.

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Gateway Greening’s contribution to the STL Map Room project, highlighting many of St. Louis City’s school & community gardens, public green spaces, and LRA land.

Discover more about this fascinating project by visiting the STL Map Room website, or find out how you can participating by contacting Emily Catedral at [email protected].

Volunteers Spring Cleaning School Gardens

Saint Louis Public Schools have spring break next week, so students throughout the district have been tackling big projects in their gardens. Some of the garden projects were simply too big for students to complete during class time. Thanks to a bit of help from some amazing volunteers, the school gardens will be ready for warmer weather and planting after spring break.

Clay Elementary

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It may have been freezing, but the Washington University Danforth Scholars were a cheerful and energetic volunteer group!
Last week the Washington University Danforth Scholars braved cold weather to spent a day of their own spring break working outside in freezing temperatures at Clay Elementary last week. When they signed up, they did not anticipate needing warm layers and hand warmers, but nonetheless they worked hard throughout the school day! 
The Danforth Scholars kept warm by moving mulch and compost, and tackled a tricky rebuild project of older raised  garden beds. Throughout the day, these volunteers also visited classes and assisted with lessons on weather and ecosystems, pairing up with third graders as they made their weekly weather and plant observations. It may have been colder than expected, but the Clay Elementary students had a great deal of fun with the Danforth Scholars volunteers.


Gateway Elementary

Throughout the week, middle school students from the Wyman Center, a teen outreach and support program, also worked in various Gateway Greening school gardens to prepare for spring. On Thursday, Ferguson Middle Schoolers from the Wyman Center volunteered at Gateway Elementary. The Ferguson students worked with Gateway Elementary’s fourth grade students to finish installing new garden beds, moving endless buckets of soil and compost into new double-high beds and pulled out piles of weeds.

Along the way, Gateway fourth graders fearlessly held giant earthworms and taught the middle school students about worms, and the Ferguson middle schoolers demonstrated excellent wheelbarrow skills. It was truly a community event with partners from MU Extension and Gateway Michael School coming out to work in the school garden with the students.

For students to get the most out of their gardens, extra help is needed throughout the school year, but especially in spring. It takes considerable effort preparing the soil, moving mulch onto pathways, and expanding garden beds before the growing season begins.

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Endless buckets of fresh compost and plenty of humor at Gateway Elementary’s school garden last week.


Volunteer in a School Garden

Volunteering in a school garden is an excellent way to learn more about programs in your local schools. Individuals and groups are welcome to volunteer in school gardens. You can help during big garden work days or implement a garden lesson. Please contact Gateway Greening Volunteer Manager Megan Moncure to learn more.

No-Till Proposal by Dig It STL

Dig It STL Interns ask: “Why are you tilling the Farm beds?”

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Since October, Dig It interns Adam and Anna have been hard at work on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm. From researching and creating a crop rotation plan for the coming year, to getting outside and performing hands-on tasks, they’ve been an incredible help this spring.

As Adam and Anna have learned about soil structure and different soil management practices during their internship, they asked Teen Program Coordinator Carolyn Cosgrove-Payne: “why do we till the vegetable beds on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm?” As an urban agriculture organization, Gateway Greening teaches about no-till practices in our curriculum and discuss the benefits of no-till for microbial activity, soil fertility, and carbon sequestration. 

However, we have never tried using no-till soil management practices on our own urban farm. When challenged with the question, the staff thought about it and realized the main reason we haven’t tried no-till is… inertia. Gateway Greening has never directly used no-till and things seemed to be working fine, so it never entered our minds. 

As part of the Dig It school-year program, interns are required to complete a culminating project that demonstrates some of the knowledge they gained during their time with Gateway Greening this spring. We are excited to announce that Adam and Anna have chosen to put forth a No-Till Proposal for the Gateway Greening Urban Farm as their culminating project. 



Gateway Greening No-Till Proposal by Anna Dotson (McKinley High School) and Adam Mancuso (Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience)

Traditional farming practices utilize tilling when preparing to plant new seeds in the ground. This is done in several ways, from large machinery to handheld tools, bu the goal is the same: to loosen and aerate the soil in order to make it easier to plant and introduce nutrients. However, this process also interrupts the natural soil building process that is occurring during the growing season. This is why some farmers choose to instead use no-till practices on their farms, to maintain and boost this process. While till farming builds up the soil (using compost, fertilizers, etc), tears it down, and builds it up again, no-till farmers instead continuously build up the soil throughout the year.  We will be testing out no-till farming on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm this season in three different beds- lettuce, okra, and butternut squash. The process we will use on those beds is as follows:

  • Use a crimper to crush the stems of the cover cropBlog - No Till 2017 Img 02
  • Use tarps to cover the no-till beds and smother remaining cover crops (1-2 weeks)
  • Add 4 inches of mulch during initial seeding of bed
  • Remove perennial roots from soil where seeds are being planted
  • Incorporate dead vegetation back into the mulch
  • Pull mulch away from stems of young growing plants
  • Add more mulch as plants grow
  • Spread compost around plants before adding more mulch on top
  • Water beds minimally using drip irrigation
  • Educate visitors: “Don’t compact the soil my dudes!”


Before and after the beds are planted, we will be measuring several aspects of soil health through soil testing (pictured in attached pix), and we will compare tilled and no-till beds of the same crops for diseases, pests, and yield throughout the season.   

Compost Challenge at Mallinckrodt Academy

Mallinckrodt Academy’s Compost Bin with a fresh layer of “greens” to balance its mix.

Whether you enjoy a good steak or are a vegetarian, the truth is we all rely on healthy soil in which to grow our food (or our cows food). Simply put, we would not be able to eat without soil. Over the last week the fourth graders at Mallinckrodt Academy have been learning about the importance of soil to our world.

Depending on the local climate, it can take hundreds of years to develop one inch of topsoil. That can be difficult to demonstrate in the classroom. Fortunately, there’s a way for students to speed this process along – composting in the school garden.

Healthy compost consists of nitrogen rich greens: food scraps, grass clippings, and weeds that haven’t yet gone to seed, layered with carbon filled browns: dried leaves, newspaper, and straw, all mixed with a bit of water and soil (to inoculate new batches of compost with microorganisms that will help to decompose the compost over time). This week the fourth graders of Mallinckrodt spent some quality time observing their compost bin, and discovered that the balance of “browns” and “greens” was off. A compost bin that is piled high with mostly oak leaves would break down eventually, but not anytime soon. When the students were asked how they could remedy the imbalance, the answer was clear – the food scraps from their lunches would be perfect!

Lunchroom to Compost

Mallinckrodt Academy has had an active school composting program for the last few years, but in recent weeks the school has streamlined their method to great success.

When the program was first implemented, it began with a single bucket placed near the cafeteria trash can during lunch. This quickly proved to be too messy, leading to extra work for the janitorial staff.

Mallinckrodt students separating their personal food scraps for composting during lunch.

After weeks of enduring this method, the lunchroom staff came up with a workable solution. Rather than using just one bucket placed near the trash, cafeteria staff purchased small buckets like the kind used for sanitizing water to put at each table. With a few announcements during lunch from Youth Educator Meg Holmes, Senior Jake Norman the spanish teacher, and even Mr. DeAndre Thomas the principal, students soon knew to throw excess food they weren’t going to eat into the compost. Even more importantly, the students knew which food could be composted (apple cores, bread crust, peas) and which food stuffs could not (trash, chicken nuggets, milk).

Although the students of Mallinckrodt experienced a few growing pains when first beginning to compost their food scraps, the school as a whole now diverts several pounds a week from the trashcan to the compost bin! The school has even gone so far as too instigate “Waste Not Wednesdays” which has become a positive way to include the whole school, students and staff, to care for their garden and the earth.

-Meg Holmes, Gateway Greening Youth Educator


Gateway Greening challenges each of our In-Network School and Community Gardens to take on The Compost Challenge in 2017. Are you game?


Additional Resources:

Looking for more information on composting or implementing school composting programs? Check out these resources, or email our Educators at [email protected].

Video: An overview of composting

Video: This Week in the Community Garden – Composting

Video: Composting at Busch Middle School of Character  

Weather won’t stop us!

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Youth Educator Lucy Herleth brought a bit of the garden inside for students to explore during a recent lesson on how plants grow.

What happens when the weather makes it challenging to take class outside and into the school garden? We bring the garden inside to class! Last week Gateway Greening Youth Educator Lucy Herleth, when faced with some of St. Louis’ recent cold and windy weather, brought the garden into the Autistic classroom at Clay Elementary School.

The plan for the day had been to work with students in the Autistic Classroom to plant peas as part of the First Peas to the Table competition. This yearly event challenges elementary students throughout St. Louis City and County to plant peas in their school garden. Although the students are competing for a variety of awards, the main goal is to see who can harvest their peas first, just like Thomas Jefferson did.

When weather changed the day’s plans Miss Lucy opted to bring the lesson inside instead, teaching students how peas grow in the garden and the different names of the plant parts through fun activities.

Author Susan Grigsby’s book, First Peas to the Table, serves as the inspiration for Gateway Greening’s annual First Peas to the Table competition for elementary students throughout St. Louis.

First, the students pretended to be itty-bitty seeds in the soil, waiting for warm weather and rain to tell us it was time to “wake up.” Then, everyone slowly began to stretch out as they began to grow stems and leaves that stretch-stretch-stretched for the sky! With everyone wide awake and ready to listen, it was time for a closer look at plant parts using real plants!

Earlier in the morning, Miss Lucy discovered that several turnips had managed to over winter in the school garden and were thriving. By harvesting a few of the turnips and bringing them indoors: leaves, stems, roots, soil and all, the students were able to apply what they had just learned from “growing like peas.” Each student explored the turnip plants, using their hands to feel the string-like root hairs and to knock on the sturdy taproot. Several ruffled the leaves and leaned in close to smell them just as we would a bouquet of fresh flowers. And once everyone had finished to explore the turnips’ outsides, the class washed and dried them so that each student could taste both roots and greens, right there in the classroom. All of the students had fun using descriptive words to tell Miss Lucy what they thought of the taste.

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Turnips overwintered in Clay Elementary’s School Garden – the perfect prop for an indoor lesson about plant parts!

The weather may not have co-operated, but that didn’t stop the students in the Autistic Classroom at Clay Elementary! They love to get hands-on and elbow deep in plants and soil just like any other kid their age, and indoor days are no exception.

Learn More:

Looking for more ways to incorporate the school garden into your lesson plan? Stop by:

  • Gateway Greening’s Workshops for Educators page to explore monthly workshops that address the challenges and opportunities represented by teaching in school gardens
  • The Gateway Greening Educators Facebook group to connect with other teachers throughout St. Louis with similar interests in school gardens
  • Check out our In the School Garden Youtube playlist for short, actionable how-to videos that are seasonally relevant.