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How To Make Urban Agriculture Easier

Beau Considine/via Flickr

A coalition of food access organizations is surveying city residents to better understand how to encourage more urban agriculture in St. Louis.

The effort could lead to an ordinance that will remove some barriers people experience in growing their own food in the city.

The survey has received more than 600 responses, with many describing the challenges of acquiring land in St. Louis to set up a farm. In particular, residents said that land isn't affordable, residential taxes are too high to grow food and there is also no guarantee that a property managed by the city's Land Reutilization Authority won't be bought by someone else.  

Many of the responses were from residents in south St. Louis, with most coming from the Shaw and Tower Grove neighborhoods. The survey lacks responses from 17 neighborhoods in north St. Louis, especially from the 27th, 22nd, 18th and 19th wards.

Melissa Vatterott, food and farm coordinator at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said getting responses from north St. Louis neighborhoods is important because there are many vacant lots that that could be used for urban agriculture.

"Some of these ideas might impact communities with vacant land and we want to make sure the impacts are positive, that the community would like to see these agricultural activities," she said. 

In May, Mayor Francis Slay announced that residents who have maintained a vacant lot for two years can purchase it for $125. The lot must have been owned by the Land Reutilization Authority for three years. 

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment also conducted a 2014 study to look at the impacts of industrial agriculture on the health, diet and environment of residents in the St. Louis region. It showed that the area spends over $17 billion annually on food, most of it on transportation, processing and other costs that direct money outside the region. 

Vatterott said that facilitating urban agriculture could bring many benefits to the metropolitan area. 

"Not only is it rewarding to grow your own food, but it can offset your grocery bill during the growing season and it can bring communities together when you're growing food with your neighbors," she said. 

Vatterott plans to draft a bill to present to aldermen this fall.