UMSL Community Garden: Feeding the Community and Growing a Connection to Nature
Just outside the ground level of the South Campus Parking Garage, there is a stretch of open area that encompasses the UMSL Community Garden. What started off as a couple garden beds built by the Environmental Adventure Organization (EAO) back in 2015, has grown to include seven raised garden beds, a cold frame greenhouse, and their newest addition, a three section compost bin. Many students at UMSL may be unaware of this hidden food oasis, but behind the scenes, the garden workers are putting forth every effort to provide both food for the community as well as a space for students to enjoy.
The site where the community garden now sits was originally developed by the Campus Honors Environment Research Project (CHERP), as a part of their prairie restoration project. Back in 2011, CHERP, the Urban Ecology honors college course, and UMSL’s EAO, planted more than 200 prairie plants outside the South Campus Parking Garage. The beautiful natural landscape of the prairie restoration project can still be viewed, as it is adjacent to the garden’s vegetable beds. The use of Missouri native plants ensures sustainability, and also decreases lawn care costs and storm water run off. Not to mention they are favorites for many of our native pollinators. This project provided a space for students to conduct science learning projects that involve natural Missouri landscapes.
Through the help of EAO, and then later private donors and Gateway Greening, the garden has developed at an increasing speed over the last few years. Raised garden beds were constructed using donated cinder blocks, and then this past year a large cold frame structure was given to the garden, which will allow for seed planting year round.
One of the newest additions to the garden was the three section compost bin contributed by Gateway Greening of St. Louis. Gateway Greening is a non-profit organization that works with the community in order to educate and empower people through gardening and agriculture. By joining the Gateway Greening Network, the UMSL Community Garden became part of the community within the network which strives to help one another bring gardening education to St. Louis. They were also able to request the compost bin, which was then provided to the garden at no cost. The only requirement was that the garden supported volunteers, which volunteer help has been an integral part of how the garden functions for many years. Pieces of the bin were delivered on October 8th of this year by Jackson Hambrick, the Gateway Greening Community Education Manager. He then worked with the garden employees to set up the new composting bins.
Although garden workers have not officially opened the compost bins for public use, as they are still learning the process themselves, they are working hard to provide helpful information on topics like composting. Katy Mike, the UMSL Sustainability Coordinator, held a Bokashi composting workshop on Oct. 16, to celebrate World Food Day. This method of composting is ideal for people who live in small areas such as apartments. She provided handouts and inoculation recipes for those interested in this composting method.
As the growing season winds down, garden work days also begin to decrease; however, come spring, there will be many opportunities for volunteers in the garden. On typical garden work days you can find garden workers weeding, watering, and planting seeds. Later in the season they would be tending to growing plants and then harvesting food. Working in the garden is a perfect way to get more connected with nature, especially when people don’t have the space to have gardens of their own. Another important aspect of the community garden is the fact that it’s open to everyone. “I want students to come and get what they want, whether they’re hungry, or just looking for vegetables,” Community Garden Coordinator, Aurora Blanchard provided. The garden was meant to be an inclusive space that services the vast population here at UMSL, and so it’s open to anyone whether they’re helping or simply enjoying the space.
The garden has also been making strides in giving back to the community. This year alone they donated twenty-five pounds of produce to various organizations around St. Louis. They partnered with Operation Pathways as well as the Metro Trans Umbrella Group, to provide fresh produce to people in need. Although COVID-19 prevented the group from donating to the Triton Pantry this season, there are hopes that this relationship can be forged in the future.
Many people are unaware of the community garden located on the south campus. The team has goals to spread the word about the garden to increase visitors as well as the number of volunteers. If you’re looking to get your hands dirty this spring, or if you are simply interested in finding a quiet place to sit or study, or take a walk through, consider visiting the UMSL Community Garden. A thorough list of directions can be found here on UMSL Sustainability’s blog, greenUMSL.
The garden is always looking for help, and they also accept donations of gardening supplies and tools. If you wish to volunteer or have supplies that you wish to donate, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!