The sun’s slanted rays beat down on rows of basil, collard greens, tomatoes and eggplant. Annie Mayrose, a brown-haired young lady with an incandescent smile, gestured proudly toward the sprouting plants.
Thirty yards away, trucks roared across an overpass, and in the distance the skyscrapers of St. Louis jutted from the earth. The afternoon sun glinted from the silver arch at the edge of the city.
The City Seeds Urban Farm lies in the center of a busy city, right next to a 15-story hotel complex, but it produces fruits, vegetables and honey for sale throughout St. Louis and given as donations to local food pantries. City Seeds is a project of Gateway Greening, a 26-year-old organization that provides education, seed and soil grants, horticulture therapy and a sense of community to a city blighted by economic depression.
“The program is growing rapidly,” Mayrose explained. “We support over 200 community gardens, including over 80 school gardens.”
Educating the community on the benefits of local food and healthy eating is a major goal of Gateway Greening. But the group also provides skills training and garden therapy for the mentally ill or people recently released from prison. A 10-week intensive “green” training course can teach citizens how to grow, harvest and prepare their own vegetables, while a 12-step program — what Mayrose called the “12 steps of gardening” — can help the socially disadvantaged get back on their feet.