Gateway Greening Storybook

Each of our 200+ community gardens and urban greening projects comes with a story of its own. Read true tales about kids and butterflies, cancer and hope, new patches and gardens still thriving after 30 years — all submitted by Gateway Greeners across St. Louis.

Tell Us Your Story, Here!

Wild West Community Garden-Growing Friendships, Educational Opportunities and Vegetables Since 2011 - October 18, 2016

By Chrissie McConnell, Garden Leader, Advanced Master Gardener

There is no a better way to tell our story than to sit down with Jodi Smedley, the visionary and founder of our spectacular garden. I had the perfect opportunity to sit down with her and she will be the first to tell you it took a village- Here’s our story…

McConnell: Where did your inspiration and vision come from? 

Smedley: A really difficult situation, the sudden death of my brother Gregg. We both shared a passion for gardening. This was a way to turn a very difficult situation into something beautiful and remain connected via The Gregg Witwen Memorial Garden.

McConnell: Can you share how this vision became a reality?

Smedley: There was available land on the Wildwood Family YMCA property. I saw the perfect opportunity! I proposed the idea. A focus group was identified and there were about thirty people on board with this plan. From there a steering committee was developed all with the help of Nathan Brandt the Horticulture Specialist with the St. Louis MU Extension program. Initial funding was procured through local, community businesses and supportive individuals.

McConnell: What was your connection with the YMCA at this time and how did they support this vision?

Smedley: At the time I had been working in the membership department and to- date I have been employed at the Wildwood Family YMCA for fifteen years. The mission of the garden is to provide a peaceful, neighborly and safe setting that encourages gardeners to gather, socialize, learn and share the benefits of organic gardening, environmental stewardship and community support through bounty sharing to local food pantries. Growing a healthy community is consistent of that with the YMCA, being youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

McConnell: Can you share some of the important organizations, groups and businesses that have contributed to the garden’s development and growth over the past six years?

Smedley:  Some of the fabulous people that have helped us include Lucky’s Market, Corporate Y Partners, St. Louis Master Gardeners, AmeriCorps, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Eaton Bussmann, Kohl’s Ellisville and of course Gateway Greening and the Wildwood Family YMCA!

McConnell:  The groundbreaking for the garden was in 2011 and now it’s 2016! How has the garden grown and flourished?


1.We’ve expanded and now have 55 raised garden beds and are land locked.   

2.We have a Lucky’s Market Learning Garden with 8 raised beds in which children’s educational programming occurs, including YMCA day camp activities. There is a worm bin, pizza garden and a pollinator garden.

3.The P.A.R. program (Plant -A-Row For The Hungry) has been developed.  

4.We have developed designated berms for our native pollinators.  We won the Gateway Greening 2016 award for Best Biodiversity in a Garden. 

5.In 2016 funding was secured for a youth educator.

6.We are an official Monarch Waystation.

7.Homeschool programming has been developed.

8.Taste of The Garden events in conjunction with The University of Missouri Extension Program.

9.Strong communication development through our garden newsletter, section leaders, steering committee, adult education programs, garden committees and e-mail garden tips.

10.The most generous individuals who give their time sharing their talents and knowledge way beyond our garden guidelines.

McConnell: Our beautiful oasis also lends itself to offer individuals peaceful rests, reflection and relaxation watching the sunset on a cozy bench or watching the abundance of butterflies on the wide array of flowers. It is definitely an experience for all of our human senses to enjoy.

Jodi is currently the Corporate and Community Collaborator for the Wildwood Family YMCA and a Master Gardener.

The Wild West Community Garden –Growing a Healthy Community One Garden at a time!   We are located on the property of the Wildwood Family YMCA in Wildwood Missouri- c’mon out!


Fresh Starts Community Garden - October 18, 2016

Once upon a time, in the city of St Louis, MO, there was a certain vacant city lot, and on it was nothing but tall grass and equally tall weeds. It was also a dumping place for plenty of trash, in all forms from various places and people. So one lady, by the name of Rosie Willis, decided something positive should be done about that city lot – a blight on the whole area.


A garden! That would create beauty as well as a great source for fresh, organic vegetables for the surrounding neighborhood residents. This was in the year of our Lord 2009. So what did Rosie do? Well, first she asked her neighbors if they would like a vegetable garden on the lot, where all the trash, mean weeds and grass was growing. Everyone was thrilled about such an idea! So, as spokesperson for her neighbors, Rosie went to City Hall. There, she checked all the records are kept on local land and buildings, and discovered that the land belonged to the Comptrollers Office. The director was eager to lease the land to Rosie’s community group for only $1.00 dollar for five years!!


Hallelujah, hallelujah! The land was theirs, and Rosie and her neighbors could start their garden. But how???


Rosie and her neighbors didn’t have money to buy the things they needed as start up gardeners. But that didn’t stop Rosie. She sent letters to all of the surrounding churches. Unlike most communities, Rosie’s had an abundance of churches nearby. So, thinking that she would surely get help from her neighborhood churches, she contacted each pastor of every church (about 20 or more) and asked for $1 dollar. To strengthen her case, she showed proof that the community group was operating with a 501(c)3, under the  umbrella of the Neighborhood Organization at that time. In the end, not one church responded to their request for help, not even the churches located on the same city block as the garden.


Determined to succeed, Rosie turned next to their city Alderwoman, Marlene Davis, for financial help. After many late night emails, early morning emails and phone calls from Rosie to the Alderwoman, the answer was still “we don’t have any money right now, but we’ll work on it.” So Rosie kept at it. She and her neighbors were challenged with so many obstacles and stumbling blocks while starting their garden: no money, no tools, no seeds, no lumber for raised beds, and even worse – no water. The community had to run water from across the street to garden the few plants they had. Any “no” you can think of, Rosie and her neighbors heard it.


One day, Rosie heard about a small grant being offered by Operation Bright Side (OBS). She worked with Mary Lou Green (of OBS) to apply, and they got the grant! Now, the garden could really get started, and it did! Rosie and her neighbors purchased gardening tools and flower bulbs to start beautifying the space. A local lumber company in the neighborhood agreed to sell them $435 dollars worth of lumber for $130, and even when the gardeners couldn’t pay the bill, he brought the lumber anyway, cut and ready to build 19 raised garden beds! And through it all, Rosie kept emailing her Alderwoman, keeping her up to date on the obstacles and successes of the neighborhood gardeners. The Alderwoman listened, and rewarded their persistence by approving funding not only for the one lot Rosie and her neighbors had begun gardening on, but also to expand the space onto another six lots on the same block!


Over time, Rosie and her neighbors have worked hard and worked magic in their new garden: The Fresh Starts Community Garden. They transformed it from a wasteland of trash, weeds, tall grasses and drug needles to being awarded the Best Community Hang-Out Garden by Gateway Greening. Today, they are blessed with great local support and even volunteer help from all over the country. Next year, they’ll celebrate the gardens 9th birthday! Where has the time gone?


Story by Rosie Willis – Fresh Starts Community Garden Leader

Growing Community at Central Reform Congregation Community Garden & Beyond - September 21, 2016

Welcome to CRC Community Garden

One of the fundamental goals of CRC is to strengthen the bonds of our community through communication and participation, while continuing our work of Tikkun Olam — the repair of the world. Our landscape includes an area we call “Common Ground,” located at the northeast corner of the property, a circular area of paving stones intended to welcome members of the surrounding community, in this diverse urban setting. In this garden space, we have placed a public sculpture as a landmark where the community is welcome to gather for marches, candlelight vigils, or prayer services.

We have added 4 raised beds this spring to grow food and donate it to the local food pantry. We are building community with the gardens in the area, including the garden at Next Door and the Central West End farm, with the desire to build a thriving network. One day, we would love for the folks who use the food pantry to take over the gardening and maybe open a garden store for them to sell food and goods.

-Ben Fox, Garden Leader

Learning in the Garden

I moved to St. Louis from Jackson, Mississippi hoping the weather would be cooler and less humid. I was wrong. And now, instead of working in an air conditioned office, my daily work life has changed dramatically. I moved to St. Louis at the end of July to work for The Amir Project, an organization that teaches young adults to run educational gardens at summer camps. In St. Louis though, Amir began a year-round initiative aiming to work with local community gardens in the hopes of providing support. More specifically, I work with the Garden of Eden at the JCC in Creve Coeur, the Central West End Farm, the Central Reform Congregation farm, the Next Dor garden, and the Transgender Memorial Garden.

Through each garden, I’ve met people and made friends who have each taught me something unique, which made me realize how truly innovative the garden classroom is. At the Central West End Farm, under the tutelage of Arthur Culbert, I not only learned interesting things about plants and veggies, but also how to sustain a gift-garden. I learned to infuse vinegar with herbs, package the product, and sell it to community members, which ultimately brings money back to the garden for seed and seedling money. I know these are skills I will take with me moving forward. I am grateful that even though air conditioning is comfortable, that I got out of the office setting and into the garden setting. Gardening in St. Louis very quickly introduced me to the folks of the city, and I was able to meet and befriend people of all ages. 

-Arielle Nissenblatt

Fountain Park Community Garden - August 10, 2016

From Trash to Treasure

From trash to treasure; that is what I would call our garden. We say that because our garden is not in the typical place where one would normally find a garden; it’s smack dab in the middle of the inner-city. In an area that is known for its crime but nevertheless it has become a rose sprouting from concrete.

We were sought out by an organization to start this garden ten or more years ago; and because we were weary with the vacant lot that sat next to our home being an “eye sore” we agreed. Maybe it was in our blood because my grandmother ran and looked after an award-winning garden in her time that was just about the length of an entire city block.  But we were compelled because the lot was covered with trash & drug paraphernalia and because it was convenient. The lot sat right across from our home.

Fast forward and here we are today, in a thriving garden that has become a blessing and treasure to our community. It has provided produce faithfully every year. The garden has received the “Malcolm Flower Bed Award” for the heirloom plant. Impressively, it has within it a “butterfly garden” that has attracted monarch butterflies; which are as of today almost considered extinct. The garden has also attracted volunteers from local colleges and people from all over the nation to help; who without their faithfulness we would not have been able to maintain the garden alone.

Our passion surrounding the garden is two-fold; one, to educate people of the health benefits of gardening and two, to beautify the community. We want others to experience what it’s like to eat produce that’s organic and free of pesticides. It has really been a joy.

Garden Leaders Ernest and Connie Wess’ story, written by niece Daphney Jackson

Hawthorn Children's Hospital Student Garden - July 28, 2016

Hawthorn Children’s Hospital Student Garden

Hawthorn is a state hospital for mentally ill children. We get kids aged from 6-17 from all over the state. While the children are sick, most of the time they behave like other kids. Many of them have been through severe trauma, some were born with problems. The great thing is the kids get better while they are here.

About six years ago, not long after I started working at Hawthorn,  I noticed some sunflowers growing in a weedy, fenced off area. I asked some of my coworkers why there were sunflowers growing in a fenced off weed patch. I was told that the children used to have a gardening program, and they always planted sunflowers. The flowers had self seeded ever since they quit gardening. Since I had long experience gardening and wanted to do something extra to work with the kids, I along with others restarted the gardening program at Hawthorn. We took the seeds from the sunflowers descended from planting years ago to replant in the Spring.

Gateway Greening was kind enough to supply us with tools, plants and a raised bed. A local Cub Scout pack’s leaders hauled a bunch of compost to improve the soil. The kids moved the compost and worked it in to the soil and we had a garden!

The kids at Hawthorn stay for various times so there are always some experienced gardeners and some who haven’t see a tomato plant in their lives.  Late winter the kids start some seeds. In the spring they prepare the soil, plan the garden and plant. In the summer they harvest and, not often enough, weed. In the fall they plant fall crops and put the garden to bed. Often kids know they will be gone before they see the fruits of their labor but they continue to work hard so other kids they haven’t met can enjoy their favorite flower or vegetable. The kids do almost all the work. A great thing about the garden is kids who might have had little success in their past can see (and eat) something they achieved. We always do some science lessons about pollination, seed germination and plant reproduction as we garden. For many kids gardening is a coping skill that helps them be calm (that works for me also). Other kids who have trouble with peer relationships will work well as a team to get things done in the garden. Some really enjoy teaching others about the garden, giving them an opportunity to help others. Of course some kids just want to eat a fresh tomato or strawberry. The kids eat the produce and pick the flowers. They always want to share with their peers, staff and families. I love the way kids get excited when they see what they accomplished with just a few seeds and hard work.

Every year we save sunflower seeds to plant the next year. We always tell the story of the sunflowers planted by someone we don’t know that started something good that helps us today. I like to think that the many good things people do plant seeds that they may never realize flower.

-Greg Rhinesmith, Garden Leader

Boyle-Laclede Garden - July 18, 2016

A Place of Respite, A Place to Connect

In 2010 a group of neighbors began our community garden with organizational support from Gateway Greening and with financial support from Park Central Development, from the West Pine-Laclede Neighborhood Association, and from the Manhattan Townhouse Association.   Over the ensuing years, the garden has grown and improved with input from local gardeners, residents, neighborhood associations, and local craftsmen.   Among the additions are a communal herb garden, fruit trees, grape vines, a compost bin, as well as a pergola and picnic table – the sum of which is an incredible asset to the neighborhood, aesthetically and socially.  

I became involved four years ago and learned that a garden is so much more than just a place to raise vegetables. It is a place to connect with other gardeners, with neighbors who share our passion, and with passers-by.  People love to check out our garden and start conversations with the people who tend it.  What a great way to get to know your neighbors!  One day a woman came and sat on our bench facing the roses and the vegetable beds.  She told me that this was her place of peace and she would come whenever she could while her husband was being treated at Siteman Cancer Center.   Another day a group of boy scouts stopped to help turn the compost bin.

We are far from experts or master gardeners.  We are just people who love the concept of growing our own food while building community and improving our neighborhoods.  As gardeners we share our frustrations and successes with each other and we learn together about best practices in organic gardening.  We learn from our challenges and, hopefully, get a little better each year.     

-Diana Gualdoni, Garden Leader at Boyle-Laclede Garden

Fox Park Farm - July 18, 2016

A Green Oasis Nestled in the Urban Landscape

Opening in 1991, Fox Park Farm (FPF) is one of the oldest continuously operating community gardens in the St. Louis area.  It was founded and maintained for many years by longtime neighborhood resident, Jim Hogan.  Funding was initially provided through the “Weed and Seed” anticrime program.  Over the years FPF has also benefited greatly from the guidance and generosity of Gateway Greening.  The project originally consisted of two very different sites.  Morning Glory Garden, like Fox Park Farm, was situated on three city owned, abandoned corner lots at the intersection of Russell and California in the Fox Park neighborhood.  The Garden was a contemplative area planted with trees, shrubs, and flowers of many types.  Short walk ways and benches were scattered about.  It was a refuge for birds, bees, butterflies and people.  The Farm, just across the street, was dedicated largely to vegetable gardening.  Both had great potential to be welcome assets to a neighborhood faced with numerous urban challenges.

As with all community gardens, FPF grew and matured in fits and starts. Initially, many of the Farmers had limited knowledge of gardening and lacked group cohesion.  A few Farmers tended their own plots meticulously, while the bulk were satisfied to plant a tomato or two and hope something might grow.  Little attention was paid to the overall maintenance of the Farm.  Over time, weeds far outnumbered the planted crops.  The same neglect affected the Garden.  At their worst, the Farm and the Garden became weed covered eyesores.  Rather than adding to the health and beauty of the neighborhood, they nearly reverted to their previously abandoned lot status.

Slowly, however, a small and steadily growing group of dedicated Farmers joined together to save the Farm.  They sensed that FPF could play a major role in the ongoing revitalization of the neighborhood.  The Farmers developed a bond among themselves and the surrounding neighborhood.  Greater and greater numbers of Farmers began to pitch in to improve the quality of their plots, as well as the common maintenance of the Farm as a whole.  Weeds were pulled, grass was mowed, and the appearance of the Farm slowly, but noticeably improved.

Early success, however, nearly precipitated calamity.  Once the promise of these once abandoned lots became apparent, real estate developers took notice.  Politicians, valuing new tax- paying projects, were enticed to allow destruction of the green space, even though ample abandoned lots were available throughout the neighborhood.  In 2004, Morning Glory Garden was razed for townhomes and FPF was clearly threatened with the same fate.  The Farmers, however, were determined to demonstrate that the benefits of a community garden far outweighed those of additional development.  

The Farmers redoubled their efforts to maintain and improve FPF.  A sense of dedication to the Farm and the neighborhood invigorated them to save the Farm.  They worked to enhance the quality and quantity of food produced from the 30 plus plots.  They removed a grove of “weed trees,” created a community herb garden, built three large wooden compost bins, planted a blueberry patch, and installed pollinator, butterfly and hummingbird gardens filled with a variety of native plants.  Over many years, the perimeter was filled with plants donated from the Great Perennial Divide and salvaged from Morning Glory Garden.

On the political front, Farmers working with the neighborhood association, actively courted city officials, touting the benefits of a successful urban farm to the vitality of the entire neighborhood.  Through their efforts they won the support of their Alderman Christine Ingrassia.  Rather than threatening to eliminate the Farm she has become a strong supporter and secured financing to replace the cracking sidewalk around the Farm, further enhancing the appearance of the Farm.  

Today, Fox Park Farm is a center piece of the Fox Park neighborhood.  It is a green oasis nestled in the urban landscape.  The Farmers harvest impressive quantities of nutritious food for their families and frequently socialize on the Farm patio.  It is what a successful community garden should be and is an integral part of the community it serves.  It is successful because a dedicated core of neighbors, for many years, have been willing to work together to make their neighborhood a great place to live for themselves and their families.  It has been well worth the effort.  Like many other community gardens it has made St. Louis a better place to live.

-Terry Lueckenhoff, Garden Leader at Fox Park Farm

Nahed Chapman New American Academy International Garden - July 18, 2016

The Journey Begins with Us

My original questions was…Can we provide refugee students with information that can assist them in overcoming the unique challenges that exist in their classrooms?  As the nation’s demographics change, so does our responsibility to meet the needs of this diverse student body.  These students have significant implications for educational and social policy.   One component of the Nahed Chapman New American Academy ecological milieu was to provide avenues for in-depth discussions of practices that can help all students make informed choices when it comes to our environment.  As a result of those discussions, surveys were taken and students decided to plan and grow an International Garden.

We began our quest to become a “greener school” with conducting student-led school-wide needs assessments, conducting research, advocating for change with key stakeholders and coordinating a symposia that highlighted successes via our school newsletter.  There is always a lot to learn about the lives of people that we interact with each day that will establish a better rapport.  Without some connections, people often unintentionally make gross generalizations about others.  The end result of this activity—students who come from diverse backgrounds became teachers, too.

Most supermarkets are stocked with foods that could easily be grown locally. Yet food is often transported from countries thousands of miles away to local supermarkets. If home grown food was grown and/or purchased more often, this would dramatically reduce the amount of fuel used and consequently the amount of pollution created. Likewise, if our community partners consumed locally produced seasonal foods instead of out of season foods, this too would decrease our carbon footprint.  Composting is good for the environment and for gardens. We have designated an area in our court yard to put fruit peels, and uneaten food.  After a while, we’ll be able to use the compost to fertilize our International Garden.

Education still remains the pathway that leads people out of despair and hopelessness.  My intent was to provide information concerning culturally relevant strategies, school-wide initiatives, and individual classroom practices that help to close the vocabulary, reading, writing, and content area literacy gaps that exist for many students.  In this Science Unit, I included adaptations and accommodations to help a range of learners gain access to the curriculum. Schools reflect the attitudes and commitment of the entire community.   Indeed what seems to have occurred is the first endorsement of a school-wide “Go Greener” initiative.  I am cheered by the possibility of making a difference.

Together we can make a difference that will last for millions of lifetimes—the journey begins with us.

Nelver Brooks, Middle School Science Teacher

House of Living Stone Community Garden - July 6, 2016

She Was Scared of Worms and Bugs When She Started

I have a new gardener, who is so enthusiastic about her new experience in gardening.  She had never done this before but she has been so successful.  She was scared of worms and bugs when she started, she didn’t like dirt, but now all of the fear is gone and she is having a blast.  She gets so excited about seeing a yellow blossom turn into a cucumber and being able to produce a 5-pound head of cabbage.   She was able to share her beautiful heads of iceberg lettuce with all of her co-workers for healthy lunch salads.  She is a caregiver for children at a daycare center and she sometimes brings them to the garden to show them how things grow.  As a garden leader, she has been such an uplifting experience for me.  I just enjoy watching her get so excited when she sees her seeds turn into plants and then she gets to harvest her produce.  This garden has helped her in her unhealthy eating habits that she was into before she started gardening.  Her enthusiasm is rubbing off on some of the other gardeners.  She also got into our art project for the garden and has taken it to a new level.  We are truly enjoying our new art space and the stories that are being told by each piece of artwork.

Florida Cargill, Garden Leader at House of Living Stone Community Garden

Holly Hills Community Garden

My Kind of Garden

Yes, we are making a greener, healthier and prettier place to live, but as the sign at our Holly Hills garden reads, it is a community garden. It is my wish to continue to see our garden grow not just beautiful flowers, trees, plants and vegetables, but to also grow a sense of community. A sense of belonging — a neighborhood, a town and friends. A sense of, “howdy neighbor, how ya doin’.” I feel that community is so vital to the human condition, and the community gardening and greening efforts of all involved work to improve that human condition.

Garden Leader Tim Bolt, Holly Hills Community Garden, founded in 2007

Growing Hope: Breast Cancer Survivor Found Comfort at City Seeds Urban Farm
I first read about Gateway Greening when I was teaching fulltime and raising two children, which is a way of saying I didn’t have time for much more. Finally in 2006, I retired from teaching and applied to the Master Gardener Program. In early 2007, I began my volunteering with a variety of activities — visits to community gardens, meetings for the plant sale, working the plant sale and Great Perennial Divide, planting the Tucker median and helping at City Seeds Urban Farm. City Seeds quickly became my fairly regular Friday morning activity.

About the same time, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Much of the rest of that summer was spent with diagnostic tests and meeting with doctors to develop a treatment plan. When it was complete, I had a diagnosis of Stage 3 bilateral breast cancer. I was to take medication to shrink the tumors, and four months later the surgeon would do a lumpectomy on one side and a mastectomy with removal of lymph nodes on the other side. Then, just as I was feeling a little better, I would start chemotherapy followed by radiation. Fortunately, my treatment plan meant that I could almost finish City Seed’s garden season. I had surgery on Halloween, then chemotherapy and radiation. I was a little late getting to City Seeds the following year, but I came back and finished my second season.

Anyone who has ever enjoyed poking in the dirt knows how life-sustaining it is — for me, in more literal than I would have chosen. City Seeds helped get me through the year. I was terrified, and it helped me back to life. Thank you Gateway Greening, City Seeds staff, clients, Master Gardeners and interns. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say you helped save my life.

Connie Goss, Survivor, City Seeds Volunteer

Ames School Butterfly Garden

Kids and Butterflies Thrive at Ames School Butterfly Garden

Every September, the garden at Ames Visual and Performing Arts Elementary School is filled with Monarch butterflies. Students raise the bugs from small caterpillars through the chrysalis stage and into adult butterflies. After tagging them through the Monarch Watch program, the kids release them to begin their migration to the Monarch overwintering sites in the mountains of Mexico.

Our garden site was not always the thriving, educational environment it is now. Years ago, the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group planted roses, hardy hibiscus and butterfly bushes in what was then a barren lot. Today, the Ames students help care for their garden — which still includes some of the restoration group’s original plants. Thanks to the Gateway Greening Perennial Divide and the hard work of students and neighbors, many new plants have been added to the school’s butterfly garden.

Time, effort and help from friends have made the garden a special place for children, neighbors, Monarchs and wild butterflies living in the midst of the city.

Garden Leader Gloria Bratkowski, Ames School Butterfly Garden, founded in 1996

Columbia Peace and Hope Garden

New Growth at Columbia Peace and Hope Garden

Even before the Gateway Greening staff came to work with the students and volunteers to install the Columbia Peace and Hope Garden, a number of good forces had come together: a boy scout had cleaned up the old lot adjacent to the playground that was to become the garden; a volunteer had mapped out a garden design for our application; teachers had given their enthusiastic assent to having their students become part of this growing adventure.

The Gateway Greening staff arrived, exuding energy, enthusiasm and good will. And the process began. Boards, hammers, nails, wheelbarrows, shovels, soil — and children! It was an awesome combination. The installation was successful. Not only did we building raised beds, but the project also seeded an enthusiasm for what community gardening could bring: “Can I try hammering that?” “I can push the wheelbarrow by myself.” “I want to shovel, too.” “Can we build more?” “Can we fill more than just our classroom’s bed?” “When do we put our plants in?” These were the kind of expressions that filled the day and began a gardening adventure in a neighborhood that previously had very, very few gardens to show for it.

The Gateway Greening staff was marvelous with the students. They were supportive and encouraging, teaching them how rather than doing it for them. The staff was obviously enjoying it themselves, which made them a delightful group to be with. At the end of the school day, when the beds were built and filled, the students had gone home and Gateway Greening had loaded up the wheelbarrows and shovels and gone to do other good things, I bent down I kissed the ground that we had hallowed. That was the feel of that day, and it has only gotten better since.

The fact that Columbia Elementary actually has a vandalism-free garden (except for a few ripe delicious things every year) that the children plant, harvest and eat from continues to amaze the very people who are engaged with it. Substitute teachers, first exposed to the garden on recess, cannot believe that this actually exists — that it’s growing, lovely and full of things that the children planted themselves.

The skepticism that a garden could grow in that old lot near Grand and St. Louis Avenue has given way to everything from lettuce — planted, picked and eaten with enthusiasm and ranch dressing — to those strange little radishes that delight some taste buds and repel others, to greens cooked in crockpots in classrooms. Even on the coldest day in early January, still the hopeful question can be heard almost daily in halls of the school, “Ms. Mary, are we going to the garden today?”

School Garden Leader Mary Hellwig, Columbia Peace and Hope Garden, founded in 1990

Maffitt Patch Community Garden
One bright morning, in the spring of 1984, Pierre Laclede Elementary School to see if a fourth grade class would be interested in creating a prairie preserve on a vacant lot nearby. Of course, we would! So we planted and harvested rye grass, along with other kinds of grasses. Our first newspaper article in the Post-Dispatch was titled, “Wheat Fields in the City.” We were really excited, but the ‘prairie’ did not hold the children’s attention long, since we couldn’t grind the wheat to make bread.

With the help of Sue Reed and Kitty Hoblitzelle from Gateway to Gardening, along with students from Washington University, we built twelve raised beds, planted vegetables, herbs, and flowers and started the Maffitt Cabbage Patch. We did not have a water source, so a neighbor, George Johnson, a retired butcher, threw a water hose over two fences with the help of another neighbor to provide our water.

In 1985, our garden won three blue ribbons in the St. Louis Garden Competition. Rodale’s Organic Gardening named the Maffitt Cabbage Patch a Community Gardening Contest Winner. In 1989, National Gardening chose our garden as one of the top ten youth gardening programs in the country. In 1992, we were featured in the April edition of the Missouri Conservationist magazine. On October 15, 1997, the Missouri Historical Society and the Historyonics Theatre Co. presented a play about the garden, written by Lee Patton Chiles, titled “Brick Soup.”

All students from Kindergarten to fifth grade are invited and encouraged to visit and use the garden, because it is a very important part of our curriculum, as well as our community.
The students sing this song as they plant: “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow. All it takes is a rake and a hoe, and a piece of fertile ground. Inch by inch, row by row, someone bless these seeds I sow. Someone warm them from below ‘til the rain comes tumblin’ down.”

We thank God and all of our benefactors, especially Gateway Greening, Eunice Spratt, Peter Sparks, Jerry Cannon, Fernando Johnson, Jimmie McDaniel, Rosie Neal, Helena Hughes, Mary Jeffries, Frank Enger, William Parks and the Seventh District community workers of the St. Louis Police Department.

-Garden Leader Pauline Humphrey, Maffitt Patch Community Garden, founded in 1984

A Garden Sign Like no Other… Many of Them.
After we built the McPherson Community Garden, I wanted to make a sign that was like no other sign around. I wanted it to match the architecture of our neighborhood, and be worthy of the craftsmanship and design that went into the century-old buildings and houses that our neighborhood is blessed with. I made dozens of drafts and refined details many times, trying to create the perfect and unique design. I studied the architectural details of our houses, looking for clues, inspiration, and guidelines for a good match. Eventually, I achieved my goal and created an original sign which matches the architectural style of our great neighborhood and has a vintage typeface from a bygone era.
My friends at Gateway Greening (our sponsor) were impressed with the sign and said, “That’s great! Could you make four more for some of our other gardens?!” I had to think about it for a few days, because the goal to have a unique sign would be lost if I made more. After a couple of days I decided it would be better to make many signs. I could let go of the ‘unique’ status, and I would make a better contribution if I created more signs to put in many places, so more folks would enjoy them, instead of one sign at one garden. Instead of the sign being unique to the McPherson Garden, the signs could be unique to Gateway Greening, which is a bigger picture after all.
After building those four signs, I said to my friends at Gateway Greening, “Four signs is a lot to build in one year. The next group should probably be less.” They replied “Okay…How about twelve more!” I made those twelve and more, and through the years I have lost count. Each sign is unique to the garden it is created for. They all have the same recognizable design, shape, and typeface, so they can be identified with Gateway Greening, while each has its own details and also something, which identifies with that garden. Some signs have details which reflect the architecture of the surrounding neighborhood. Others have a crest or neighborhood logo. Others have a detail from the garden, like a carving of a sea-serpent to go with the sea-serpent statue in that garden. The Holly Hills Community Garden has a woodcarving of large holly leaves across the top of the sign. Still others have carvings of special flowers that are important to those gardens. I now have created custom-made signs all over St. Louis, and I am honored to build them for a cause as great as Gateway Greening.
-Garden Leader Andy Cross, McPherson Community Garden, founded in 1997