From School Year to Summer with Dig It STL

Blog | School Year to Summer 05/2017 01
Dig It STL 2017 Interns installed new beds in the Demonstration Garden made from upcycled materials found in the local community.

This week, our first year of Dig It school year internships came to a close as our interns graduated from high school. In the 2016/2017 school year, our crew of 16 seniors from McKinley, Collegiate, and Soldan high schools racked up a cool 560 hours of service on the Gateway Greening farm, and they can see the impact. The garlic they planted in the fall is almost ready to be harvested, the fruit trees they pruned are filled with tiny green cherries, plums, and peaches, and in the words of one intern, “It’s sad we have to leave just when it’s getting good out here!”

Our teens explored a wide range of topics this year, including hunger and food insecurity, no-till soil management, medicinal herbs, and food policy. This highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of urban agriculture, and the connections between our farm and the diverse fields of ecology, biology, food science, public health, and business or nonprofit management. These are topics many teens don’t even know they’re interested in! One intern said, “I just signed up for this internship so that my friend wouldn’t be the only one at the info session, but Dig It has been interesting and fun and had made me more interested in environmental farming.”

Working on the farm also allowed interns an opportunity to reflect on their own health and habits. During our last-day reflection, many of our interns said they felt inspired to eat more fresh foods after this experience, and to seek out food grown organically, despite the fact that healthy eating was not a topic we explicitly covered. Some students came to the farm right after a difficult chemistry class and expressed how relaxing and peaceful it was to be able to spend part of the day outdoors, a feeling substantiated by research on green space and mental health
Blog | School to summer with Dig It 5/2017
Just as the soil food web in this no-till bed interns researched and implemented supports a spinach seedling, may the web of connections and experiences students had on the farm support them as they grow.

Work-based learning programs like this can result in higher lifetime earnings and better postsecondary outcomes for youth, and we are incredibly grateful to the Career and College Readiness team at Saint Louis Public Schools for their support. However, Dig It STL school year internships benefit Gateway Greening as well. We have the opportunity to train the next wave of nonprofit staff and citizens that will keep our St. Louis food projects running for the long haul. Young people who never would have sought us out on their own have the opportunity to realize that they are interested in our mission. Even if our interns never set foot on a farm again, we hope we have cultivated an affection for land and food that sticks with the students for life.

PS: We’re excited that two of our school year interns, Adam and Caroline, were hired onto the summer Dig It STL crew! Stay tuned for more when the Dig It STL summer session kicks off on June 14th.


Written by Carolyn Cosgrove-Payne, Teen Programs Coordinator


Discover more about the Dig It STL Program: 

April on the Urban Farm with Dig It STL
A Semester in the Dig It STL Internship Program
No-Till Proposal by Dig It STL
USDA Awards Grant to Support Green Jobs for St. Louis Teens

Salad Party in the School Garden!

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Students look forward to the end-of-year salad party, when they can eat the produce they have worked so hard to grow in the school garden.


Gateway Greening’s “Power of Growing Food” was exemplified at Shaw VPA’s end of year salad party in the school garden. After a St. Louis spring of unusual weather, planting and replanting crops that did not make it due to weather or friends that live in the garden, watering and weeding, the 2nd graders at Shaw VPA finally gained a full harvest out of all of their diligence and hard work.


Harvesting for the Salad Party

Students harvested produce they had cultivated in the school garden to create their salads.

A running theme discussed with students at Shaw VPA throughout the school year was the parts and functions of a plant. The end result was that by this spring, instead of just harvesting a specific crop, the students were asked to harvest different plant parts from their crops. When asked to pick a plant part that they’d like to eat, the students exclaimed “seeds!” and “fruit!” before heading for the peas! They have been watching the life cycle of the peas closely for Gateway Greening’s First Peas to the Table Challenge. Students are instructed to harvest the most plump pea pods. The peas always end up a favorite because they soon realize the author of First Peas to the Table, Susan Gribsby, says, the peas are as sweet as candy.

After harvesting their peas, the students wanted to add flowers to their salads. To continue with observing the life cycle of a plant and encourage pollinators in our garden, we have allowed one section of our radishes to flower. Radish flowers, as one student describes, taste like sweet, spicy broccoli and made for a great addition to the salad.

Staying with the radishes, students went underground to the next plant part, roots. I’m always surprised by how willing the students are to try anything and how much they love radishes!

At this point, we were missing a big ingredient to our salad: leaves of course! As a group we found that the lettuce had formed perfect heads, and then tried different methods of harvesting the lettuce. In the end, the students attempted the cut and come method, just taking a leaf here and there as I assisted by harvesting an entire head.     


Clean-up in the School Garden is a Snap!

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Clean up after the salad party was a snap, with second graders lining up for a chance to clean their dishes.

Once the students had thoroughly rinsed their harvest, they each tore up their own ingredients into bite sized pieces, tasting each item as they added it to their bowl. At this point I usually hear some requests for ranch dressing during our yearly salad party. To encourage the student to try new things, I  prepared a simple Vinaigrette dressing in advance. (Equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with a shake of salt and pepper!) The students are always adventurous, taking a little taste at first before realizing it tastes pretty good! Usually they end up requesting more. By the end of the year, these kids have some refined pallets.   

After eating, any leftovers are taken to the compost bin. Not much was added to the compost bin after the salad party, the salad was such a hit. All that was left were dirty dishes, and that was quickly resolved by making a tub of soapy water. The second graders washed and rinsed their dishes before stacking them neatly.

Having a salad party allowed the students to truly get a chance to admire and enjoy all of their hard work from start to finish, seed to table.


Written by Meg Holmes, Youth Educator at Gateway Greening


Need quick tips on what (and how) to harvest for a salad party in your school garden this May? Check out this short video – This Week in the School Garden: Salad Party!


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.

May Chicks in the School Garden

Students at Clay Elementary were excited to spend time watching over baby chicks this week – and learning about life cycles as they did so.

Discovering Life Cycles

Spring in the school garden means new growth and discoveries! While the students are busy noticing changes in the garden, special visitors have arrived at Clay Elementary to teach the students about life cycles. Gateway Greening partners with University of Missouri Extension, Jefferson County, to provide chicken eggs and incubators to the Clay Elementary preschool, kindergarten, and second grade classrooms.


Incubating Chicks in the Classroom

During the first week the incubators were kept in the classroom, where students expectantly monitored and turned the eggs three times a day. They observed that the incubators kept the chicken eggs at a toasty 98 degrees and watched videos to learn how the embryo changes inside of the egg. The kindergarteners even learned that the yolk sac gives the embryo nourishment to grow, just like the seed provides food for a plant embryo in the garden.

Student at Clay Elementary carefully holding a newly hatched chick – part of a hands-on lesson in life cycles.

The following monday, real excitement began in the incubators! The second graders’ chicks were ambitious, with one chick fully hatching before the students arrived at school. Throughout the day the second grade’s eggs continued to hatch until they had ten cheeping chicks. The preschoolers and kindergarteners were disappointed. No chicks had hatched in their classrooms, not even a crack had appeared.

The next day, the preschoolers and kindergarteners nervously checked their eggs – and cracks had started on a few of the eggs! The egg tooth, the part of the beak that helps a chick break open its egg, was even visible in a few of the cracks. Throughout the day, the preschoolers and kindergarteners observed as more eggs cracked and chicks appeared. They were worried when the chicks looked wet and sticky, but under the warm incubator lights the chicks quickly dried out until they were fluffy and yellow.

When the chicks fully dried out, they were carefully moved into a bigger box while the students eagerly monitored the chicks and listened to their “cheeps” to figure out if they were content in their new home. Finally, the students learned how to gently and safely handle the chicks. Happily, the chicks were as soft as they looked!


What happens next?

In the coming week, Clay Elementary students will observe how the chicks rapidly grow. The second graders are measuring and weighing the chicks, and the kindergarteners and preschoolers are studying what chicks need to survive. Before the end of the school year, full grown chickens will visit, so students can see just how much chickens change over their life cycle.

Written by Lucy Herleth, Gateway Greening Youth Educator

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.

Give STL Day at Gateway Greening | 2017


Thursday, May 11, is Give STL Day, and this year Gateway Greening is raising $10,000 to support programs that are more than “just” gardening – like the creation of new Seed to STEM curriculum for St. Louis educators!


Blog April Showers Apr 2017 | Give STL Day

Drawing on more than 5 years of experience working with local K-5 teachers, the Gateway Greening Youth Educators are building a new curriculum, Seed to STEM, to help St. Louis teachers take class outside.

We know, on average, children need to spend more time outdoors and moving than they currently do but it is difficult to fit it into the school schedule. Incorporating the school garden into the school day means that teachers and students have the opportunity to get out, move, and get their hands dirty every day, which improves mood, concentration, and learning.” – Kathleen Carson, Gateway Greening Education Manager

This new curriculum pairs Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Saint Louis Public Schools science curriculum to ensure that lessons developed in the garden are more than just “extra activities.” Instead, Seed to STEM curriculum provides teachers with an opportunity to meet their curricular goals while still taking their students outside for hands-on learning activities.

“​Gardens are a place of wonder and science just outside the school door! In school gardens, kids spark their curiosity and engage with the natural world. It is easier than ever to make science connections come alive with the Seed to STEM curriculum.” – Lucy Herleth, Gateway Greening Youth Educator


Exciting news! A generous donor has offered to match every dollar we raise during Give STL Day – up to $5,000! Donate now to DOUBLE your impact and support another year of youth gardening and urban agriculture in St. Louis!


Throughout St. Louis City and County, school gardens are providing valuable outdoor classrooms and living laboratories.

Children do not yet have the life experiences that allow them to incorporate the new information that they hear or read into their understanding of the world the way that adults do, making it critically important that students “get their hands dirty.” As educators, we want students to touch, feel, manipulate, and observe their surroundings with their own senses so that when the students encounter more abstract information, they have experience to “hang” it on. School gardens are cost-effective spaces in which to offer that experience.

Our garden is a place where kids grow all kinds of things.  They grow fruit, vegetables, spices, knowledge, experience, teamwork, and fun.  It allows our students to be a part of something that they can create and see grow.  That is the power of our garden.” –  Mr. C. Rooney, Interim AP, and Garden Leader at Shaw VPA Elementary


Make a difference in St. Louis this Give STL Day – Give a gift to support programs like
Seed to STEM!


Discover more Gateway Greening supported projects at work in St. Louis:

Dig it STL – We believe that young people are powerful, and that their involvement in our community food projects is the key to a healthy and sustainable future for St. Louis. 

Gateway Greening Urban Farm and City Seeds therapeutic job training program – The Gateway Greening Urban Farm is a 2.5-acre vegetable farm in downtown St. Louis. The site is used as an outdoor learning laboratory to teach the community valuable skills related to employment readiness, therapeutic horticulture, food systems, and so much more. 

Storybook – We could tell you all about our network of more 220+ community gardens, but it’s more fun to let you read their stories, in their own words on the Gateway Greening Storybook.

Rainy Days on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm

Rain Garden or Urban Farm?

Blog | Rain Garden or Urban Farm 5 2017 01We probably don’t need to tell to you that it has been an incredibly wet and rainy week on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm. The vegetables are getting a good drink, but unfortunately so are the weeds so we are mentally preparing ourselves for some heavy duty weeding in the near future. There are even some persistent puddles in the aisles and walkways have not dried out for weeks.

This week we said, “enough!” and started digging out around flooded areas to redirect water down-slope towards the rain garden. You can do this in your home or community garden too!


Keeping Busy on Rainy Days

Despite being driven inside by the rain the City Seeds clients kept busy as we studied Irrigation Systems and Ornamental Plants, like bulbs, vines and grasses in class this week. The highlight of the week was our food demo with Chef Margaret from the Chef and Child Foundation, where many clients tried kohlrabi for the first time, and actually liked it! Spread the word: kohlrabi slaw with avocado dressing is absolutely delicious… You are welcome.

Blog | Rain Garden or Urban Farm 5 2017 02Aside from classes and the dramatic weather, the Gateway Greening Urban Farm is finally starting to look more alive and productive, and less like a barren graveyard, as one client observed. It is very rewarding for everyone to watch all the progress and growth—now they can see their hard work paying off!

We are excited to get rolling with harvest season and hang up the raincoats for a while. Next week we would like a little sunshine, but not too hot (for the bok choi’s sake). Cross your fingers!


Written by Emily Leidenfrost, Horticulture Instructor on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm


Learn More:

Learn more about the Gateway Greening Urban Farm and City Seeds, the therapeutic job training program offered there.

Struggling with drainage issues? Rain gardens are often considered a cost effective, attractive, and environmentally friendly solution. Stop by the Missouri Botanical Gardens and Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District websites to learn more.