GOOD

GOOD Ideas for Cities: Growing A Local Food System for St. Louis

A group of local food activist shows that sometimes, the best solutions come from changing city policy.

St. Louis, Missouri is surrounded by some of the country's richest farmland. That's why it's all the more frustrating that local residents eat produce grown hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles away. In February, GOOD Ideas for Cities came to St. Louis, providing a platform for groups to address citywide problems. Comprised of local food enthusiasts, STL Provocateur took the stage to present a solution toward fixing the city's local food problem. What was most extraordinary about STL Provocateur's presentation was that the solution they proposed was not a physical one—the group's participants focused on advocating a policy change that would allow and encourage urban agriculture in St. Louis. Within four months of presenting the idea, the policy, named Board Bill 79, passed in July.


[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHkD00w_Cpo
STL Provocateur's presentation from the March 8 event

Rhonda Smythe, a local food activist, brought together the STL Provocateur team to collaborate on a solution. "St. Louis has a vibrant local food scene, though much of the activity has been centered around the distribution of locally grown food to restaurants and farmers markets due to increased demand," says Smythe. "There are several groups working to support urban agriculture at the community level: Gateway Greening works with over 200 community gardens and four hub gardens, and the International Institute's Global Farm trains refugees how to build a successful farm career in the States. There are many community projects and initiatives that are unconnected, and up until June, no supportive policies for urban agriculture."

For Smythe, this was bigger than just addressing policy change to increase the presence of local produce. "The issues we want to tackle are deeper than the aggregation and distribution of local food," said Smythe. "The local food movement lacks equity and a focus on nutrition education and cooking skills. We believe environmental and cultural change is necessary to support healthier eating—merely providing people with fresh vegetables does not mean they will like or want them."


A slide from STL Provocateur's presentation

Another member of STL Provocateur is Craig Heller, who is leading the development of a local food hub called FarmWorks. As a public-private partnership, FarmWorks is an indoor urban farm, transitional residential facility and educational hub all rolled into one. Working within the local food community, Heller observes that St. Louis is extremely unique: a large city with an agribusiness background. Local food initiatives can get a leg up by capitalizing on some of the agricultural knowledge base in the area. "There's the Danforth Science Center here, and the Missouri Botanical Garden, the University—there are a lot of entities here that can really help." Positively changing the urban agriculture policy was key for STL Provocateur because it opens up the city to an incredibly unique opportunity. "A little outside of the core of downtown Boston is Harvard, there is no open acreage," says Heller, noting that FarmWorks is barely a few miles from the downtown of St. Louis. "When it comes to urban agriculture, outside of the larger cities on the outskirt of a downtown core, you don't have open acreage. So in some ways, we're uniquely situated."


A detail of the proposed urban farm at FarmWorks

STL Provocateur might have changed policy to encourage the growth of local food, but that's only the first step in a much longer process. "For local food to be bigger, you have to have an effective distribution system," explains Heller. "There are many produce growers in the area that would love to get their produce into the St. Louis marketplace, but that's really hard. They have to talk to 20 or 30 restaurants to get people to work with them." The key for STL Provocateur is getting healthy, local produce into neighborhood gardens and corner stores—even if people aren't interested or simply don't have the time to participate in gardening, they can still support the neighborhood effort by shopping at stores nearby. "Our focus is on neighborhood-level initiatives where it is possible to change health behaviors through hands on experience growing food in community gardens paired with education at the schools and hub facility," says Smythe. "Kids will be a vital part of the education piece as their eating behaviors and habits have yet to be solidified. Their involvement and excitement in leading these programs will be key to drawing parents and the community into the gardens and changing local food culture."


The STL Provocateur team, from a profile by Alive Magazine

Smythe admits that there are some roadblocks in the way. "STL Provocateur's biggest hurdle is that we are all hyper-active in our many volunteer and neighborhood commitments and do not have the capacity to pilot a new program through to completion." For now, their main goals are to continue to introduce policy that reduces barriers to urban agriculture, and funnel all community food project information into one resource. They also hope to lead edible foraging walks in local neighborhoods, and host an event for National Food Day.

Best of all, STL Provocateur is in a city that is open to positive change, encouraging creatives to get involved. "The City of St. Louis has been accessible and eager to work with us," says Smythe. "They are focused on creating an environment that draws the creative class to St. Louis and see urban agriculture as an important piece in doing so." But Heller adds that getting locals onboard is tough but totally possible. "If you can do this in the Midwest, and prove this system, I think you can do it just about anywhere."

STL Provocateur will be one of four teams from our St. Louis event reporting on their progress at an event on September 26 as part of St. Louis Design Week. Check out the St. Louis Design Week website for details.

Top image: A rendering of the urban agriculture facility proposed by FarmWorks

GOOD Ideas for Cities pairs creative problem-solvers with real urban challenges proposed by civic leaders. To learn more visit good.is/ideasforcities. Watch more videos of recent GOOD Ideas for Cities events, and if you'd like to talk about bringing the program to your city or school, email alissa[at]goodinc[dot]com or follow us at @IdeasforCities

Articles
Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
Health