A Green Oasis Nestled in the Urban Landscape
Opening in 1991, Fox Park Farm (FPF) is one of the oldest continuously operating community gardens in the St. Louis area. It was founded and maintained for many years by longtime neighborhood resident, Jim Hogan. Funding was initially provided through the “Weed and Seed” anticrime program. Over the years FPF has also benefited greatly from the guidance and generosity of Gateway Greening. The project originally consisted of two very different sites.
Morning Glory Garden, like Fox Park Farm, was situated on three city owned, abandoned corner lots at the intersection of Russell and California in the Fox Park neighborhood. The Garden was a contemplative area planted with trees, shrubs, and flowers of many types. Short walk ways and benches were scattered about. It was a refuge for birds, bees, butterflies and people. The Farm, just across the street, was dedicated largely to vegetable gardening. Both had great potential to be welcome assets to a neighborhood faced with numerous urban challenges.
As with all community gardens, FPF grew and matured in fits and starts. Initially, many of the Farmers had limited knowledge of gardening and lacked group cohesion. A few Farmers tended their own plots meticulously, while the bulk were satisfied to plant a tomato or two and hope something might grow. Little attention was paid to the overall maintenance of the Farm. Over time, weeds far outnumbered the planted crops. The same neglect affected the Garden. At their worst, the Farm and the Garden became weed covered eyesores. Rather than adding to the health and beauty of the neighborhood, they nearly reverted to their previously abandoned lot status.
Slowly, however, a small and steadily growing group of dedicated Farmers joined together to save the Farm. They sensed that FPF could play a major role in the ongoing revitalization of the neighborhood. The Farmers developed a bond among themselves and the surrounding neighborhood. Greater and greater numbers of Farmers began to pitch in to improve the quality of their plots, as well as the common maintenance of the Farm as a whole. Weeds were pulled, grass was mowed, and the appearance of the Farm slowly, but noticeably improved.
Early success, however, nearly precipitated calamity. Once the promise of these once abandoned lots became apparent, real estate developers took notice. Politicians, valuing new tax- paying projects, were enticed to allow destruction of the green space, even though ample abandoned lots were available throughout the neighborhood. In 2004, Morning Glory Garden was razed for townhomes and FPF was clearly threatened with the same fate. The Farmers, however, were determined to demonstrate that the benefits of a community garden far outweighed those of additional development.
The Farmers redoubled their efforts to maintain and improve FPF. A sense of dedication to the Farm and the neighborhood invigorated them to save the Farm. They worked to enhance the quality and quantity of food produced from the 30 plus plots. They removed a grove of “weed trees,” created a community herb garden, built three large wooden compost bins, planted a blueberry patch, and installed pollinator, butterfly and hummingbird gardens filled with a variety of native plants. Over many years, the perimeter was filled with plants donated from the Great Perennial Divide and salvaged from Morning Glory Garden.
On the political front, Farmers working with the neighborhood association, actively courted city officials, touting the benefits of a successful urban farm to the vitality of the entire neighborhood. Through their efforts they won the support of their Alderman Christine Ingrassia. Rather than threatening to eliminate the Farm she has become a strong supporter and secured financing to replace the cracking sidewalk around the Farm, further enhancing the appearance of the Farm.
Today, Fox Park Farm is a center piece of the Fox Park neighborhood. It is a green oasis nestled in the urban landscape. The Farmers harvest impressive quantities of nutritious food for their families and frequently socialize on the Farm patio. It is what a successful community garden should be and is an integral part of the community it serves. It is successful because a dedicated core of neighbors, for many years, have been willing to work together to make their neighborhood a great place to live for themselves and their families. It has been well worth the effort. Like many other community gardens it has made St. Louis a better place to live.
-Terry Lueckenhoff, Garden Leader at Fox Park Farm