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Sep 2005 / from the source :: email this story to a friend

Putting Down New Roots
By Trish Grim

New Roots Urban Farm is a Missouri non-profit community organization located on six city lots just one mile north of downtown, in the St. Louis Place neighborhood. The farm is a micro-version of a small organic farm. Our farm has a half-acre of vegetable beds, chickens, fruit trees, an herb garden and a perennial flower garden. We have created a system of raised vegetable beds in order to create a healthy, living soil in an urban landscape. The mission of New Roots is to increase the availability of fresh, chemical-free produce to the residents of St. Louis, specifically those with little or no income.

Cabbage Patch Kids New Roots Urban Farm started as a grandiose dream of turning North St. Louis into a landscape of lush gardens with squash, tomatoes and fruit trees growing on every side lot, roof and street median. Well, it really started in a never-ending row of summer squash on an organic farm near Eureka, Missouri. The three of us (Amy Gerth, Joseph Black and me) were working on a rural farm together last summer when the idea first took root. I was beginning to feel disappointed in the organic movement and the seemingly inevitable focus on high-end markets, upscale restaurants and, ultimately, profit. Our efforts weren't reaching those in the city most in need of access to fresh produce, specifically safe, chemical-free produce. So, Joseph and I decided to join Amy and move to North City to begin discussing urban agriculture and the creation of New Roots.

We knew we wanted the project to focus on three things: practicing intensive food production and distribution, educating children, and becoming a model and resource for the community on urban agriculture and sustainability. We wanted to create a project that would integrate biodiversity and social diversity, fulfilling both environmental and food/social justice needs within the community. The three of us spent the winter writing grants and designing the project. By February we had secured land, received three grants, incorporated as a state non-profit, gained a fourth partner (Molly Dupre) and created a CSA (community-supported agriculture) model with 16 shareholders financially committing to the project. This past March we had our ground breaking, or more accurately, we had our ground building. We had several tons of straw, manure, compost and topsoil hauled to our site, and from these materials we built layered garden beds with the help of our shareholders and friends.

dirt pile

The first few months were a struggle and there were many days that I questioned my own ability and the viability of urban agriculture. A hint for future urban farmers: several tons of aerated, displaced organic materials take some time to develop soil structure and water retention capabilities. But the plants were stronger than the basic soil surrounding them, and after an initial shock things began to grow and then flourish. This past month we were able to give, on a weekly basis, 300 pounds of produce to our shareholders, 75-100 pounds of produce to the neighborhood food bank and a supply of fresh produce to a nearby shelter for women and children. In July, we had a local HeadStart class come for our first children's program event.

The bounty is great and while the work of farming, organizing and fundraising can be at times overwhelming and all-consuming, I find the joy of giving and the creation of both sustenance and beauty in the midst of scarcity truly rewarding.

garden If you are interested in supporting our project, we have a wide range of needs. Some of these include: financial contributions, web design, gardening tools that are in good condition, picnic table, weed whacker, lumber, large sheets of plastic, digital camera and windows.

Our regular volunteer days are Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9a.m. to 12 p.m. If you are interested in other volunteer/apprenticeship opportunities, would like to come for a visit, or would just like more information about the project, you can email us at or call us at 314-588-7116. We are located at 1830 Hogan Street/ St. Louis, MO 63106. (Our mailing address is 1829 N. 18th St.)

Trish Grim is co-founder and farm manager of New Roots Urban Farm; her favorite crop on the farm these days is okra, but her dream crop? That would be "a little grove of paw paws. I would love to happen upon a paw paw patch in the middle of the city. What delicious, custardy fruit. Mmmm, paw paws."

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