Voice from the Tower Grove East Community Garden

Tower Grove East Community Garden, 2002.


Written by Mary Anne Pikrone, Tower Grove East Community Garden Leader.


Three and a half years ago, as my husband and I were taking a get-acquainted drive through the neighborhood we chose to live in, we came upon folks working in the Tower Grove East Community Garden. I’d given up backyard gardens in Richmond, VA., and Toledo, Ohio, and was prepared to do with just a postage stamp yard behind our new location on Louisiana Ave. So I walked into the garden, asked about available beds, and within a couple weeks, I was happily planting tomato seedlings in my new plot a half block from where we moved. It made me feel at home again.


Meanwhile, I kept hearing about Gateway Greening but didn’t really understand what the organization was. I did note our sign said the garden was established by GG in 1999– long before I moved here.


I got more involved in the Tower Grove East Community Garden, and that’s when I came to appreciate what a wonderful resource Gateway Greening is. I visited their headquarters and took the required course for garden officers. I attended their early spring conferences, where I learned community gardening techniques and met others who are just as passionate about urban gardening as I am. And, best of all, I discovered Gateway Greening’s volunteer services.


Tower Grove East Community Garden, Summer of 2008.

Frankly, we wouldn’t be where we are today–nor would we look as good–if it were not for the volunteers Gateway Greening has sent us. We’ve had folks from Minnesota who mightily struggled, and prevailed, in 90-degree weather under brutal sunlight; they weren’t used to such heat.


We’ve had seminarians and families who’ve helped us. We’ve had up to several dozen people–I call them worker bees–who have descended on our grounds, worked furiously in often very hot weather and left the place neat and clean. I must say the most impressive were the high school track team girls (can’t remember from where), who conquered deep roots that our gardeners hadn’t been able to budge. Yes, I have to say they definitely out-weeded the guys.


Then, late last year, Gateway Greening arrived with much-needed tools to refurbish our tool shed. What a gift! Now, of course, I hope to apply for a new arbor/trellis from them. When I have friends visit, I always give them a tour of the garden and explain about Gateway Greening, a wonderful umbrella organization of more than 200 urban community gardens.


Meanwhile, we’re determined to keep improving the garden. Thanks to Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, the city installed new sidewalks and replaced ancient steps leading up to the garden this fall. We paid to have our 100-year-old plus retaining wall tuckpointed; it had been cracking and chipping.


It’s great to know Gateway Greening has our back.

Winter Planning: Exciting Plants to Try Next Spring

Though the 2017 growing season may be over, winter is no time to sleep on preparing for your garden. One of the most important aspects of planning for spring is deciding which plants to grow. Below we provide recommendations from knowledgeable Gateway Greening staff so that your garden can thrive!


Perennial Produce

Asparagus is a great choice for a St. Louis garden.

If you have not heard about the many benefits of perennial plants, consider this your wake up call. Perennials can reduce the amount of time spent planting in the spring and are often quite hardy.

Some great choices for St. Louis, according to our Garden Program Manager, Dean Gunderson, are: 

Sorrel –A tangy green that kids love, sorrel is a perennial that thrives in the St. Louis region. It can be used as either an herb or green and is ready to harvest in early spring, making it a great way to start the growing season.

Asparagus –Though asparagus can take a year or two to establish, once it does it will produce delicious food for years to come.

Read more about edible perennials that grow well in St. Louis here.


Varieties That Thrive in St. Louis

Missouri Pink Love Apple Tomatoes

Jackson Hambrick, Garden Project Manager at Gateway Greening, has a lot of experience finding varieties of common vegetables that thrive in St. Louis. Through trial and error, he has found that the examples below embrace the extreme temperatures and unreliable precipitation of the region.

Malabar Spinach –Though the name suggests otherwise, this plant is not actually a spinach. Unlike classic spinach, malabar spinach does quite well with the humidity and heat of summer in St. Louis.

Lettuce ‘Muir’ –“This is the most heat tolerant lettuce I have come across. It can easily handle the large temperature swings of St. Louis springs and can be grown under cover during the early summer,” Jackson said.

Missouri Pink Love Apple Tomato –If you are looking for a gorgeous tomato to add color to your garden, this variety is a great choice. It is a Missouri heirloom and when taken care of, it will thrive in the St. Louis region.


Try Something New

Roselle –Roselle is a species of hibiscus that is native to West Africa. It is used to make hibiscus beverages and preserves. While a perennial in warmer climates, in the St. Louis area it is

Okra thrives during hot Missouri summers.

cultivated as an annual.

Storage Tomatoes –If you ever wish for home grown tomatoes long after the growing season, storage tomatoes are a perfect choice. When they are picked green, they will ripen over the course of weeks and can stay delicious for weeks beyond that, depending on the specific variety.

Okra –Though okra is a widely recognized vegetable, it is not always common in community gardens. It is a great choice for St. Louis because it loves our hot summers! It also produces beautiful flowers that can be used in arrangements.

Ground Cherries –If you are looking for a slightly sweet and low maintenance choice for your garden, ground cherries will fit the bill. They are in the same genus as tomatillos and could be mistaken for them because of the papery husks that they are covered in. They are great to mix in salsas and pies and also make a delicious jam.


Do you have a favorite plant that does not get enough love in the St. Louis region? Or have you been meaning to try something new but have not been able to plant it yet? Share with us on Facebook, Twitter or email! We would love to hear about your garden experiments and plans.

Urban Agriculture Challenges and Solutions: Part 3

This is the third in a series of articles about the challenges gardeners and farmers have faced while working in an urban area, as well as the solutions they have come up with in the face of these issues. Read the previous posts from the series here and here

House of Living Stone community garden.

A Skeptical Gardener

Allison Reed was skeptical about joining a community garden. Mostly because she hates bugs. Especially mosquitoes.

But when Florida Cargill, garden leader of House of Living Stone community garden, asked her if she wanted a garden bed two years ago, Allison decided to give it a try.

She still hates bugs, but has found an enjoyable hobby in community gardening. She even calls it one of the most relaxing hobbies that one can have. Planting citronella plants in her garden beds has also helped keep the bugs off of her when she comes to tend to her plants during summer evenings.

House of Living Stone 

Garden on a hill.

House of Living Stone community garden was founded in 2011 and is part of the First Baptist Church of Webster Groves. The name, which often draws interest, is based on the bible verse 1 Peter 2:5. According to Florida, the verse is about Christ talking to Peter about how believers are the living stones of a church.

The garden’s relationship with the First Baptist Church of Webster Groves means that it is used quite often for bible studies and events. It functions as a community space where members of the church can meet while enjoying the striking beauty of the garden.

And striking it is. When I first visited the garden on a September evening, the sun was just beginning to cast light through the trees. The garden, which is set atop a steep hill, features a variety of flowers and a small orchard and seems to welcome visitors in with its many benches and picnic tables.


Colorful pavestones.

Children in the Garden

One of the unique components of the House of Living Stone community garden is the emphasis on making the space a welcoming place for children.

At one edge of the garden, there is a patio area made of many painted concrete pavestones. The pavestones were painted by children of First Baptist Church of Webster Groves and feature bright designs, names, and references to biblical stories. The paintings were designed to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary and several of the pavestones have images of large birthday cakes as a result.

The garden also has a bed for children to plant various vegetables and flowers. This past summer, it held sweet potatoes and marigolds.

Florida and other garden members work hard to ensure that the garden is a place where children can come to play and enjoy its many wonders.


Problems and Solutions 

Fence around a garden bed.

The garden is undoubtedly a haven, which is made obvious as soon as you climb to the top of the hill where it sits and take in the view around it. But, like many community gardens, it experiences both environmental and involvement challenges.

This past summer, the garden’s biggest problem has been moles and groundhogs. The gardeners tried building fences made of chicken wire around their garden beds. The makeshift fences worked at first but half-chewed sweet potato leaves made it obvious that the problem required more action. Some of the gardeners eventually built a cage made of chicken wire around their garden bed. This prevented any critters from climbing in and making a meal out of growing vegetables.

House of Living Stone Community Garden, like many others, has also experienced periods of low membership and engagement.

Florida said that she keeps an eye on the garden beds and reaches out to members to ask them if they need anything if it seems like they are having trouble making it to the garden.

She also credits continued membership to the enthusiasm of the pastor of First Baptist Church of Webster Groves.

Cage around a garden bed.

“He always tells people about the garden and how to get involved and makes sure to announce events there at church meetings,” Florida said.

The garden’s strong connection to the church has meant that excess produce has a convenient place to be donated. The church has a food outreach ministry that provides supplemental meals to those in need.


Something New

The garden is a unique entity. A place of calm in a city that teems with life. It provides both respite and a place to challenge oneself.

“Planting something new every year is fun. I just like to see if I can grow something different,” Allison said.

I entered the garden stressed from traffic and honking horns. But as I walk down the hill the garden sits on, the light slanting low, I feel a sense of calm that was not there before.

Written by Mallory Brown, Communications & Fundraising AmeriCorps VISTA

Garden to Food Pantry

If you stopped by the Demonstration Garden this spring, you may have met Myra Rosenthal, a long time Gateway Greening volunteer and Garden Leader of the Garden of Eden at the JCC. Recently, we caught up with Myra to learn more about the Garden of Eden’s unique mission: providing her local food pantry with fresh garden produce.

Organic Beginnings

“You know, it wasn’t difficult [to start a garden] and it evolved organically (pardon the pun).  Many people have gardens in their homes and bring excess produce to the pantry.  For years my husband has always taken his extra tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers there.  Jewish congregations in the St. Louis area have donation bins solely for the purpose of collecting food for the pantry.” – Myra Rosenthal, Garden Leader at the Garden of Eden

Volunteers and garden members building new raised beds and planting berms at the Garden of Eden as part of their Gateway Greening Garden Expansion Award in 2014.


Founded in 2011 with the goal of providing fresh produce to the local Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, the Garden of Eden has grown considerably from its humble beginnings.

Open four days a week, the Garden of Eden is located on a corner of the St. Louis Jewish Community Center property and currently has more than 4,000 square feet of growing space in the form of raised planting berms and beds. A portion of the garden is reserved for the use of nearby Covenant Place residents, many of whom are immigrants or refugees.

With the combined effort of long-time gardeners, individual and group volunteers, and even a few cheery day camp participants, the Garden of Eden was able to grow and donate more than 3,700 pounds of food to the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry in 2016 alone.

Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry

Garden of Eden
Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry during a 2017 tour given to Gateway Greening staff.

Started in 1991, the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, a program of Jewish Family & Children’s Service, originally operated out of a single room on a shoestring budget, serving no more than 40 families. Since then the food pantry has grown considerably. Today it is a designated USDA food pantry affiliated with the St. Louis Area Foodbank and Operation Food Search, and serves more than 6,500 people each month, making it one of the largest food pantries in the region.

During a recent visit to the food pantry to learn more about how community gardeners can support their local pantries, Gateway Greening staff Erin Wood and Mallory Brown were deeply impressed by the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry’s commitment to alleviating hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds. The staff and volunteers of the pantry make every effort to accommodate special dietary needs, providing kosher, halal, gluten-free, and diabetic friendly options for their guests as much as possible.

When asked how the Garden of Eden decides what to grow in the garden each year, Myra’s response was candid: “Well, we got smart.  Eventually.  When we first started, that is, in our first year, we went to a local gardening store and we thought, ‘Oh, this plant looks good.  We’ll buy it.’  ‘Oh, look, this is interesting.  Let’s get it.’  ‘Oh, this herb is soooo cute.  We’ll grow this.’  Then somewhere in the middle of the summer, I remember thinking, ‘Is that what the clients of the food pantry want?’  So the next time I went to the pantry I asked.  I was stunned when I was told the clients in the pantry had no use for herbs.  They wanted simple, sustainable food.  They didn’t want anything fancy.  That’s when I learned we don’t grow what WE want.  We grow what THEY, the clients of the food pantry, want.”

Garden to Food Pantry - fresh harvest ready for donation!
Harvest from the Garden of Eden, cleaned, weighed, and ready to be donated to the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry (2014).

Visiting the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry is much like visiting a corner grocery store, as the pantry has moved to a “Client Choice” model. Using this model, guests are encouraged to explore the items and select foods which their families will use at home, up to a certain amount based on the number of people in their household. Judy Berkowitz, Director of the food pantry, explains that this model is more flexible than the traditional ‘bagged’ method, allowing individuals to meet their dietary needs while still embracing differences in food culture among their diverse guest base.

Myra shared that it is sometimes challenging to grow for such a diverse community, but most of the time – it isn’t. Despite not being familiar with crops like okra and collard greens, Myra chose to grow them because they went over well with the clients. “We are a multicultural country anyway and we should try other’s foods.  Come to think of it, the clients at the food pantry are multinational.  Some are from Asia, Russia, the Ukraine, and the Middle East.  What’s odd or unusual to us may not be to them and they gladly take.”


Community Garden Challenges

When asked about challenges faced by gardening, Myra states: “Gardens are gardens.  I’ve never met a productive vegetable garden that looks like a set for a magazine or a tv show.  Even the vegetable garden in Orange Is the New Black looks a zillion times better than ours.  And there’s a dead body buried in it!  I have had to deal with dismissive comments of people who think we should look weed free, lush and beautiful.  I think we spend an inordinate amount of time on weeding and other tasks so that the garden looks at least decent to ordinary passersby.  But, then, to be fair, we chose not to have a fence.  That was deliberate.  In the Bible, farmers are commanded to leave part of their fields for the poor to glean.  We do the same.”

Beyond the weeds, the Garden of Eden faces other challenges that many St. Louis community gardens can relate to: the struggle to find continuous funding, engaged volunteers and new garden members, as well as materials being stolen or vandalized. And perhaps the most devastating of all – the occasional crop failure.

Garden to Food Pantry - donation day!
Garden of Eden garden leaders Myra Rosenthal and Linda Kram donating fresh produce from the garden to the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry in 2014.


Guide to Growing for Food Pantries

Interested in sharing the bounty from your personal or community garden with a local food pantry? Myra shares a few insights:

  • Food pantries are as varied and unique as the communities they serve. Some will have refrigerators and freezers available for storing excess food, and some will not. Although most will take fresh foods that will last for at least a few days, some pantries will only accept boxed and canned goods.
  • Open Hours: Learn when the food pantry is open, and call ahead to see when they accept donations. Many rely on volunteers and may only have the capacity to accept and process your gift on certain days.
  • Visit your food pantry! Knowing how a pantry operates, and what its specific needs are, will empower you to make informed decisions about what will and will not be helpful to the food pantry.
  • Always respect the privacy of the guests of the food pantry. Ask the food pantry staff if there are any guidelines you should be following when making a donation.
  • People who are food insufficient are reluctant to try new items, and many do not have measuring cups, baking equipment, or easy access to the internet to search for recipes. When possible, keep your food donations simple and basic. When growing for a pantry, always ask what foods will be most helpful.
  • Always clean the food before making a donation! Food pantries have a lot of work to accomplish and often have limited manpower to do it all. Food safety is paramount when providing food for others, and providing clean food ensures it ends up on the shelves quicker.
  • Call ahead and let the food pantry know that you are harvesting for them or plan to make a donation on a certain day. This simple courtesy is anything but, as it allows the pantry to make changes as needed to meet the needs of its guests.


The Garden of Eden was a veritable bounty of diverse crops during a mid-summer visit in 2017, all destined for the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry.

Urban Agriculture Challenges and Solutions: Part 2

This is the second in a series of articles about the challenges gardeners and farmers have faced while working in an urban area, as well as the solutions they have come up with in the face of these issues. Read the first post from the series here.

Botanical Heights Community Garden

The Botanical Heights Community Garden was established more than a decade ago and has been an integral part of the Botanical Heights neighborhood since its creation. One of the larger community gardens in the city of St. Louis, it has over 50 beds and currently counts around 30 people as members. The garden has a large orchard as well which it won in 2010 from the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation of California, which was underwritten by Edy’s Fruit Bars.  

I visited the garden in late July when its many beds were overflowing with vegetables, flowers, and herbs. The garden is a beautiful example of the amount of produce that can be grown on a small city lot. But it has always experienced challenges that have threatened its long-term success.

A Botanical Heights gardener grows herbs in an innovative fashion.


Struggles With Involvement

Nicki Bergmann, one of the garden’s current leaders, comments that the garden has struggled with involvement and interest.

“We do regular work days, but we noticed that the same few gardeners were showing up every time.”

Nicki says that she understands that for some people it is not always possible to make the work days. They decided to institute a rebate system last year to encourage involvement and reward people who were putting the most work into the garden.

They have annual dues for belonging to the garden that they increased this year. However, those dues can be decreased if gardeners come to work days, mow, or trim the trees in the orchard.

Nicki says this system benefits both the garden and members.

“Members who can’t participate in work days pay their dues which helps us keep the garden running. And members who were already coming to work days are rewarded by being charged less for their garden membership.”

She also commented that the rebate system has helped with recruiting more garden members. Members that want more beds and have time to commit to maintaining the garden can get more beds inexpensively, as a result of the rebate system.

Flowers bloom in the beds of the garden.

Communication Problems and Solutions

For the Botanical Heights Community Garden, organization and communication has also been an issue in the past.

“We’ve made a concerted effort to ensure that people are informed about what is going on in the garden and how they can be involved,” said Nicki.

They use Google calendar to schedule work days and have used Sign Up Genius to get head counts for work days and happy hours. They also use word of mouth and email.

Gardeners have also worked on planning ahead for volunteers.

“Planning some big projects for volunteer groups to work on ensures that their time is going to be beneficial to the garden and fulfilling for them,” said Nicki.


Environmental Problems

Botanical Heights Community Garden has had some issues with bugs damaging their plants, particularly aphids.

Recently they have bought and released ladybugs, which Nicki said has helped with the aphid problem.

To prevent the spread of diseases such as powdery mildew or mosaic virus, which are highly contagious, they have created a policy that works to protect the garden as a whole.

“We try to monitor it and require gardeners to pull any infected plants as soon as they show signs of infection,” said Nicki.

Overflowing garden beds.


In Summary:

To address problems with involvement, Botanical Heights Community Garden has a rebate system that rewards gardeners that come to the work days or do tasks for the garden.

In order to tackle issues with communication, the garden leaders have used Google Calendar and Sign Up Genius in addition to other avenues to keep gardeners informed about events.

To address environmental issues, the garden has released ladybugs to combat aphids and adopted a strict policy to avoid the spread of disease.


Urban Agriculture Challenges and Solutions: Part 1

13th Street Garden
13th St. Garden has individual beds and collective rows.


13th Street Garden

This is the first in a series of articles about the challenges gardeners and farmers have faced in an urban area, as well as the solutions they have come up with in the face of these issues.

13th Street Garden was established eight years ago and can be found in the Old North neighborhood of St. Louis. It is unique in that it is a resource garden, one that lends tools and knowledge to other gardens. It is also special because of its longevity. I met with garden leaders Jason and Jessica to talk about the unique issues they face as garden leaders in St. Louis.

13th Street Garden
A street side view of 13th St Garden.

The garden has historically been supported by the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, but it is managed by longtime, dedicated neighborhood volunteers. They hold a weekly farmers’ market on site where they sell extra produce that is collectively grown in the center rows. The money from the market goes back into the garden to keep it running with seeds, plants, tools, and other materials. When asked what their biggest challenge is, both agreed lack of time and volunteers keeps them from reaching all of their goals.

“In an effort to keep weeds down, we decided to try having people sign up to weed just a single row each week, which is much more manageable than trying to tackle everything at once,” Jason said when explaining the solutions they’ve found to increasing involvement with more neighbors.

They also do outreach, such as going door to door in their neighborhood and speaking to market customers about how they can join the garden. Jessica says their market especially creates a sense of community, bringing in people from across the area who may not be members of the garden.

Jessica holds this sense of community very dearly.

“I moved here from Chicago where I lived in a mid-rise building and didn’t know anyone. Here, I know many of my neighbors. We have potlucks for almost every holiday and people come to our farmers’ market just to hang out and talk.”

They both agreed that Old North is a tight knit neighborhood, but that the garden makes it even closer.

“That’s the magic of this neighborhood. People know each other and they care about each other,” said Jason.

However, they are concerned about gardening in an urban environment.

“Lead exposure is a concern, even though plants don’t absorb much into their roots,” said Jason.

This concerns many urban farmers and gardeners. Lead is often left behind in the soil from demolished buildings.

Many gardens, including the 13th St. Garden, use raised beds and rows with fresh soil and compost to avoid lead exposure. Washing one’s hands after gardening and harvested vegetables before eating them also helps cut down on the risk of exposure. They are also experimenting with low till practices and mulching to reduce direct contact with the soil and skin.

13th Street Garden
13th St Garden has individual beds and collective rows.

They’ve also faced some theft.

“We’ve had a couple incidences of plants being pulled out of the ground and taken. Whole kale plants just disappearing. The majority of our garden-grown seedlings disappeared at the beginning of the season.”

And while they feel disappointed when theft happens, they remind themselves that it only happens occasionally. Neighbors and other urban farmers reached out to donate money and seedlings to replace those lost, getting the garden back on schedule for planting.

“Everyone is really supportive. Even if they’re not part of the garden,” said Jason.

Looking forward, both Jessica and Jason are primarily concerned with how best to increase fresh food access in their neighborhood. They want to be a resource for their community, whether that means sharing knowledge or assisting people in setting up a backyard garden.

“If a backyard garden is going to work best for them, then we will try to support them however we can,” said Jason.

In summary

To address lack of time and volunteers, 13th St. Garden does outreach door-to-door and at their on-site farmers’ markets. They also have interested people take responsibility for smaller tasks such as weeding a row, instead of expecting everyone to tackle the whole garden.

To address the risk of lead exposure, they use raised beds and rows with fresh soil and compost to prevent contamination. They also remind volunteers and members to wash hands and produce after coming into contact with soil. They are also trying low till practices.

When it comes to theft, they remind themselves that it is an infrequent occurrence that does not reflect the attitudes of the majority of the community.

To increase food access in the community, they focus on providing the best resources for each individual, in addition to increasing production and growing their farmers’ market.


-Written by Mallory Brown, Communications & Fundraising AmeriCorps VISTA at Gateway Greening


To read about other community gardens, check out the links below:



Meet the Wild West Community Garden

Wild West Community Garden – Growing Friendships, Educational Opportunities and Vegetables Since 2011

Wild West Community Garden
Images of flowers and produce grown in the Wild West Community Garden.

By Chrissie McConnell, Wild West Community Garden Leader, Advanced Master Gardener


There is no a better way to tell our story than to sit down with Jodi Smedley, the visionary and founder of our spectacular garden. I had the perfect opportunity to sit down with her and she will be the first to tell you it took a village- Here’s our story…


McConnell: Where did your inspiration and vision come from?

Smedley: A really difficult situation, the sudden death of my brother Gregg. We both shared a passion for gardening. This was a way to turn a very difficult situation into something beautiful and remain connected via The Gregg Witwen Memorial Garden.

McConnell: Can you share how this vision became a reality?

Wild West Community Garden 02
Pizza garden at the Wild West Community Garden.

Smedley: There was available land on the Wildwood Family YMCA property. I saw the perfect opportunity! I proposed the idea. A focus group was identified and there were about thirty people on board with this plan. From there a steering committee was developed all with the help of Nathan Brandt the Horticulture Specialist with the St. Louis MU Extension program. Initial funding was procured through local, community businesses and supportive individuals.


McConnell: What was your connection with the YMCA at this time and how did they support this vision?

Smedley: At the time I had been working in the membership department and to- date I have been employed at the Wildwood Family YMCA for fifteen years. The mission of the garden is to provide a peaceful, neighborly and safe setting that encourages gardeners to gather, socialize, learn and share the benefits of organic gardening, environmental stewardship and community support through bounty sharing to local food pantries. Growing a healthy community is consistent of that with the YMCA, being youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

McConnell: Can you share some of the important organizations, groups and businesses that have contributed to the garden’s development and growth over the past six years?

Smedley:  Some of the fabulous people that have helped us include Lucky’s Market, Corporate Y Partners, St. Louis Master Gardeners, AmeriCorps, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Eaton Bussmann, Kohl’s Ellisville and of course Gateway Greening and the Wildwood Family YMCA!

McConnell:  The groundbreaking for the garden was in 2011 and now it’s 2016! How has the garden grown and flourished?


1.We’ve expanded and now have 55 raised garden beds and are land locked.   

2.We have a Lucky’s Market Learning Garden with 8 raised beds in which children’s educational programming occurs, including YMCA day camp activities. There is a worm bin, pizza garden and a pollinator garden.

3.The P.A.R. program (Plant -A-Row For The Hungry) has been developed.  

4.We have developed designated berms for our native pollinators.  We won the Gateway Greening 2016 award for Best Biodiversity in a Garden.

5.In 2016 funding was secured for a youth educator.

6.We are an official Monarch Waystation.

7.Homeschool programming has been developed.

8.Taste of The Garden events in conjunction with The University of Missouri Extension Program.

9.Strong communication development through our garden newsletter, section leaders, steering committee, adult education programs, garden committees and e-mail garden tips.

10.The most generous individuals who give their time sharing their talents and knowledge way beyond our garden guidelines.


McConnell: Our beautiful oasis also lends itself to offer individuals peaceful rests, reflection and relaxation watching the sunset on a cozy bench or watching the abundance of butterflies on the wide array of flowers. It is definitely an experience for all of our human senses to enjoy.


Jodi is currently the Corporate and Community Collaborator for the Wildwood Family YMCA and a Master Gardener.


The Wild West Community Garden –Growing a Healthy Community One Garden at a time!   We are located on the property of the Wildwood Family YMCA in Wildwood Missouri- c’mon out!

Fresh Starts Community Garden

Fresh Starts Community Garden - Before pictureOnce upon a time, in the city of St Louis, MO, there was a certain vacant city lot, and on it was nothing but tall grass and equally tall weeds. It was also a dumping place for plenty of trash, in all forms from various places and people. So one lady, by the name of Rosie Willis, decided something positive should be done about that city lot – a blight on the whole area.

A garden! That would create beauty as well as a great source for fresh, organic vegetables for the surrounding neighborhood residents. This was in the year of our Lord 2009. So what did Rosie do? Well, first she asked her neighbors if they would like a vegetable garden on the lot, where all the trash, mean weeds and grass was growing. Everyone was thrilled about such an idea! So, as spokesperson for her neighbors, Rosie went to City Hall. There, she checked all the records are kept on local land and buildings, and discovered that the land belonged to the Comptrollers Office. The director was eager to lease the land to Rosie’s community group for only $1.00 dollar for five years!!

Fresh Starts Community Garden fall work day

Hallelujah, hallelujah! The land was theirs, and Rosie and her neighbors could start their garden. But how???

Rosie and her neighbors didn’t have money to buy the things they needed as start up gardeners. But that didn’t stop Rosie. She sent letters to all of the surrounding churches. Unlike most communities, Rosie’s had an abundance of churches nearby. So, thinking that she would surely get help from her neighborhood churches, she contacted each pastor of every church (about 20 or more) and asked for $1 dollar. To strengthen her case, she showed proof that the community group was operating with a 501(c)3, under the  umbrella of the Neighborhood Organization at that time. In the end, not one church responded to their request for help, not even the churches located on the same city block as the garden.

Determined to succeed, Rosie turned next to their city Alderwoman, Marlene Davis, for financial help. After many late night emails, early morning emails and phone calls from Rosie to the Alderwoman, the answer was still “we don’t have any money right now, but we’ll work on it.” So Rosie kept at it. She and her neighbors were challenged with so many obstacles and stumbling blocks while starting their garden: no money, no tools, no seeds, no lumber for raised beds, and even worse – no water. The community had to run water from across the street to garden the few plants they had. Any “no” you can think of, Rosie and her neighbors heard it.

One day, Rosie heard about a small grant being offered by Operation Bright Side (OBS). She worked with Mary Lou Green (of OBS) to apply, and they got the grant! Now, the garden could really get started, and it did! Rosie and her neighbors purchased gardening tools and flower bulbs to start beautifying the space. A local lumber company in the neighborhood agreed to sell them $435 dollars worth of lumber for $130, and even when the gardeners couldn’t pay the bill, he brought the lumber anyway, cut and ready to build 19 raised garden beds! And through it all, Rosie kept emailing her Alderwoman, keeping her up to date on the obstacles and successes of the neighborhood gardeners. The Alderwoman listened, and rewarded their persistence by approving funding not only for the one lot Rosie and her neighbors had begun gardening on, but also to expand the space onto another six lots on the same block!

Rosie & friends at Fresh Starts Community Garden in 2016

Over time, Rosie and her neighbors have worked hard and worked magic in their new garden: The Fresh Starts Community Garden. They transformed it from a wasteland of trash, weeds, tall grasses and drug needles to being awarded the Best Community Hang-Out Garden by Gateway Greening. Today, they are blessed with great local support and even volunteer help from all over the country. Next year, they’ll celebrate the gardens 9th birthday! Where has the time gone?

Story by Rosie Willis – Fresh Starts Community Garden Leader

Meet the Central Reform Congregation Community Garden


Growing Community at Central Reform Congregation Community Garden, and Beyond

Welcome to Central Reform Congregation Community Garden

One of the fundamental goals of the Central Reform Congregation (CRC) is to strengthen the bonds of our community through communication and participation, while continuing our work of Tikkun Olam — the repair of the world. Our landscape includes an area we call “Common Ground,” located at the northeast corner of the property, a circular area of paving stones intended to welcome members of the surrounding community, in this diverse urban setting. In this garden space, we have placed a public sculpture as a landmark where the community is welcome to gather for marches, candlelight vigils, or prayer services.

We have added 4 raised beds this spring to grow food and donate it to the local food pantry. We are building community with the gardens in the area, including the garden at Next Door and the Central West End farm, with the desire to build a thriving network. One day, we would love for the folks who use the food pantry to take over the gardening and maybe open a garden store for them to sell food and goods.

-Ben Fox, Garden Leader


Learning in the Central Reform Congregation Community Garden

I moved to St. Louis from Jackson, Mississippi hoping the weather would be cooler and less humid. I was wrong. And now, instead of working in an air conditioned office, my daily work life has changed dramatically. I moved to St. Louis at the end of July to work for The Amir Project, an organization that teaches young adults to run educational gardens at summer camps. In St. Louis though, Amir began a year-round initiative aiming to work with local community gardens in the hopes of providing support. More specifically, I work with the Garden of Eden at the JCC in Creve Coeur, the Central West End Farm, the Central Reform Congregation Community Garden, the Next Door garden, and the Transgender Memorial Garden.

Through each garden, I’ve met people and made friends who have each taught me something unique, which made me realize how truly innovative the garden classroom is. At the Central West End Farm, under the tutelage of Arthur Culbert, I not only learned interesting things about plants and veggies, but also how to sustain a gift-garden. I learned to infuse vinegar with herbs, package the product, and sell it to community members, which ultimately brings money back to the garden for seed and seedling money. I know these are skills I will take with me moving forward. I am grateful that even though air conditioning is comfortable, that I got out of the office setting and into the garden setting. Gardening in St. Louis very quickly introduced me to the folks of the city, and I was able to meet and befriend people of all ages.

-Arielle Nissenblatt

Meet the Fountain Park Community Garden

Fountain Park Community Garden 01

From Trash to Treasure

From trash to treasure; that is what I would call our garden. We say that because our garden is not in the typical place where one would normally find a garden; it’s smack dab in the middle of the inner-city. In an area that is known for its crime but nevertheless it has become a rose sprouting from concrete.

Fountain Park Community Garden 02

We were sought out by an organization to start this garden ten or more years ago; and because we were weary with the vacant lot that sat next to our home being an “eye sore” we agreed. Maybe it was in our blood because my grandmother ran and looked after an award-winning garden in her time that was just about the length of an entire city block.  But we were compelled because the lot was covered with trash & drug paraphernalia and because it was convenient. The lot sat right across from our home.

Fountain Park Community Garden 03

Fast forward and here we are today, in a thriving garden that has become a blessing and treasure to our community. It has provided produce faithfully every year. The garden has received the “Malcolm Flower Bed Award” for the heirloom plant. Impressively, it has within it a “butterfly garden” that has attracted monarch butterflies; which are as of today almost considered extinct. The garden has also attracted volunteers from local colleges and people from all over the nation to help; who without their faithfulness we would not have been able to maintain the garden alone.

Fountain Park Community Garden 05

Our passion surrounding the garden is two-fold; one, to educate people of the health benefits of gardening and two, to beautify the community. We want others to experience what it’s like to eat produce that’s organic and free of pesticides. It has really been a joy.

Fountain Park Community Garden Leaders Ernest and Connie Wess’ story, written by niece Daphney Jackson