When you think of a "farm," you likely imagine a sweeping vista of corn, soybean and wheat fields. And this is, in fact, what you see on much of Missouri's more than 27 million acres of rural farmland. However, there is rapidly growing interest in producing food closer to where we live, in the urban cores of our major cities. Previously abandoned lots and underutilized rooftops are being transformed into productive "foodscapes" in St. Louis.
In just the past couple of years, we've witnessed an explosion in urban agriculture, led by city residents who want to increase local access to fresh food, to serve as an example for healthy eating, and provide a model of self-sufficiency. Here are ten of Gut Check's favorites.
Dirty Girl Farms (3911 Juniata Street, 63116; 415-309-1988) Mission: To grow for and sell directly to local, visionary chefs Sells: Unique and unusual culinary and medicinal herbs, edible flowers, heirloom greens, small batch premium ice creams, single herb tinctures Founded: 2013 How it works: Employees deliver direct to restaurants daily Who's buying: Elaia, Blood & Sand, Holy Crepe, Sidney Street Cafe, Niche, the Purple Martin Challenges: "It's physically demanding," admits owner Anne Lehman. Favorite part: "I enjoy delighting chefs with new produce and talking shop with other growers," says Lehman. Future plans: Year-round growing through a subterranean farm and a rooftop farm designed by a structural engineer, a roofing company, a solar company, a landscape architect and Dirty Girl Farms
Hot Skillet Farms (63118; 314-616-2688) Mission: To provide the local community with fresh, affordable food options grown using organic and sustainable methods of production Sells: kale, collards, arugula, Phoona Kera cucumbers, sour gherkins, heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, celery, beans, squash, pumpkins, snake gourds, nasturtium, herbs, sunflowers, handmade goods and eggs Founded: 2012 Annual production: 243 dozen eggs How it works: Produce prices are kept low by offsetting with sales of handmade vegan soaps, balms, lotions, perfumes, body butters and an array of upcycled clothes Who's buying: Customers at Tower Grove Farmers Market Challenges: Labor intensive (this is a one-woman effort); access to water and electricity Favorite part: "I find that I love the pace of the work -- slow and sometimes tedious, but steady and rewarding," says owner Jennifer Dormuth. "I watch as people all around me rush about anxious and angry, and I am grateful for my time in the garden." Future plans: Hugelkultur beds for enhanced water retention, a rooftop organic hydroponic system, beekeeping, a program for returning veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder
Urban Harvest STL (314-810-6770) Mission: To grow our own food in our neighborhood and provide a platform for the community to participate, learn and grow together Founded: 2011 Annual production: 2,000 pounds How it works: All-volunteer community garden that grows food for its members and their families, and it donates weekly to the St. Patrick's Center culinary training program for the homeless Challenges: Locating space downtown Favorite part: "I enjoy transforming unused, forgotten city spaces into beautiful gems for the community," explains founder Mary Ostafi. Future plans: Downtown rooftop farm as a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm with a strong focus on education
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