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New grocery co-op offers rare product in north city neighborhood: fresh vegetables

ABOVE: Old North Co-Op
ABOVE: Old North Co-op at 13th & St. Louis Ave

Last Saturday hundreds turned out for the ribbon cutting on the Old North Grocery Co-op.

veggies at the Old North Grocery Co-Op
veggies at the Old North Grocery Co-op

They were still stocking the shelves but it was far better than when I saw the very raw space a week earlier. Congrats to everyone that made the store a reality!  You do not need to be a co-op member to purchase from the store so be sure to visit after you stop at the North City Farmers’ Market (Saturday before noon).  The farmers’ market is located at 14th & St. Louis Ave (across from Crown Candy Kitchen) and the co-op is a block east at 13th & St. Louis Ave.  Both are easily accessed from the #30 or #74 bus lines.

At the opening of the grocery co-op I talked with many people, two on camera.  First is farmer Rusty Lee of Lee Farms LLC:


Second is Dr. Jon Hagler, Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture:

The Old North Grocery Co-Op is initially open Monday-Thursday 3-7 pm , Friday 3-6:30 pm, and 9-3 on Saturday. Closed on Sunday.

13th Street Community Garden
13th Street Community Garden

Next door to the co-op is the 13th Street Community Garden.

chicken coop at the 13th street community garden
chicken coop at the 13th street community garden

Tonight at the garden “find out how to prepare your garden harvest.”  This event is at 7pm tonight, Friday July 23rd.

– Steve Patterson


Gardening inside St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution

In March I visited St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution (Unexpected green on St. Patrick’s Day) to check out the installation of some garden plots.

ABOVE: MSI garden plots, March 2010
ABOVE: MSI garden plots, March 2010

Prisoners would volunteer to do the work with the food donated to local food pantries, per the requirements of the grant.  You heard about MSI recently:

Two 17-year-old prisoners, Eric Glenn Gray and Kurt Michael Wallace, escaped from the Workhouse in North St. Louis early Wednesday morning. They were apprehended late that afternoon. Gray and Wallace were discovered hiding in a vacant house in the 5900 block of Wabada at 5:45 p.m. and arrested without further incident. (Source)

So I inquired as to the status of the garden plots.

ABOVE: garden plots at MSI, Photo by Charles Bryson
ABOVE: garden plots at MSI July 2010, Photo by Charles Bryson

I was pleased to see pics of the items growing in the plots.  Conditions are less than ideal, inmates don’t stay long, watering is not easy, etc.

The area where they are gardening is quite large — I can picture a large gardening operation.  This would require intensive square foot gardening and drip irrigation.  I’d like to see the inmates grow much of their own food.

– Steve Patterson


Poultry in the city was once common

ABOVE: St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center on Arsenal

We don’t know where our food comes from. Sure, the supermarket.  But where does the supermarket get it? My grandparents and parents had gardens their entire lives.   Before the 1950s industrialization of our food production, people in cities and suburbs raised food.  Large facilities such as the 1869 St. Louis County Lunatic Asylum at 5300 Arsenal, now known as the St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center, raised the food they needed.

“On April 23, 1869, St. Louis County Lunatic Asylum opened its doors to 150 mentally ill people. Work began in August 1864. Designed and built by architect William Rumbold, it is the second governmental facility in the state to serve this population. Rumbold’s vision was to recall Imperial Rome, resulting in the cast-iron-dome and plans that called for fine imported marble pillars for the front portico.” (Source)

As a side note remember that prior to 1876 the city was located within the boundaries of St. Louis County.

ABOVE: 1909 Sanborn Map. Source: Univ of MO Digital Library

As you can see when the facility was 40 years old it had a number of buildings behind it to the South. If we look closer we get a better idea of the uses:

ABOVE: 1909 Sanborn Map. Source: Univ of MO Digital Library

There near the center is the hen house and poultry yard, over on the right is the dairy and on the left is the greenhouse.  The pink structure is a brick bread room.

Food production within the city is not a new concept, it is an old one that many are thankfully discovering and reintroducing.  I’m not suggesting we eat only what we can grow ourselves, I just don’t want the “animals belong on the farm” to prevent people from raising some of their food in urban areas.  Thanks to John Palmer for pointing out the hen house on this map to me.

– Steve Patterson


Birds & bees of urban homesteading

ABOVE: backyard coop in St. Louis County

I don’t eat any poultry nor do I consume many eggs, but I love backyard chickens!  I’m not alone either, this segment of urban homesteading is gaining popularity because it makes so much sense. Over the last month I have talked to numerous people currently raising chickens as well as those interested in doing so.  I’ve met people with multiple acres to those with typical city yards. Interest in backyard chickens crosses economic boundaries.  Those interested include those of modest means looking for an affordable way to have fresh eggs to those who can easily afford to buy eggs but who prefer the freshness of their own.

A neighbor of my last place in South St. Louis had a rooster and I enjoyed hearing it.  Roosters can be noisy but they are not a necessary to the backyard coop. I met one woman from Clayton with chickens and a rooster. Her hen house is sound insulated and doesn’t let the rooster out until later in the morning.

All the people I talked to said their neighbors are supportive. For couples, the interest seems to start with one of the two who convinces the other to go along with the idea. If your better half says yes your municipality or subdivision my not be so agreeable.   I wanted to dig into the various laws for our region but with hundreds of units of government it is a monumental task to take on.  Here is a relevant section from the city’s code:

10.20.015 Keeping of certain animals prohibited.

A. No person shall raise or keep within the City of St. Louis any cattle, sheep, goats, swine, except for Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs. Nor shall any person raise or keep within the City of St. Louis any canine which is the offspring of the mating of a domestic canine with a wolf or coyote. The raising of such animals is hereby declared to be a public nuisance. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the above specified animals may be raised or kept within biological laboratories, hospitals, slaughter houses, stockyards, zoological gardens, or an itinerant or temporary show.

B. One Pot-Bellied Pig, per parcel of property, may be kept in the City of St. Louis, provided that males over the age of four (4) weeks (28 days) are neutered and females over the age of one hundred twenty (120) days are spayed. All such animals must be proven purebred lineage, and the owner must be able to produce litter papers to verify pedigree. Pigs over the age of one hundred twenty (120) days must be registered and licensed as required of dogs and cats. Fees for such licenses will be the same as required for dogs and cats, and must be obtained from the Health Commissioner, who must receive certificate of immunization from a licensed veterinarian that such Vietnamese pot-bellied pig has been vaccinated against pseudorabies prior to issuing such license. Upon compliant of annoyance, the privilege of keeping a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig will be determined by an investigation by agents of the Health Commissioner, and if deemed an annoyance and nuisance, the pot-bellied pig shall be removed from within the limits of the City of St. Louis, within 48 hours.

C. No person shall raise or keep chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guineas, peafowl or rabbits within the City, and the raising or keeping thereof is declared a public nuisance; except that such animals may be raised or kept within biological laboratories, hospitals, pet shops, slaughter houses, stockyards, zoological gardens, or itinerant or temporary shows; and except that such animals may be raised or kept where not more than four in the aggregate of all animals, including domestic animals and a pot-bellied pig, are kept as pets within any one parcel of property unless the owner obtains a noncommercial kennel permit. (Ord. 62853 § 7, 1993.)

So no goats for milk & cheese but you can have four chickens provided you have no other animals.

Here is the regulations for Webster Groves, MO:

Sec. 33.210. Domestic Animals Prohibited; Exception.

b. Any person desiring to keep any chicken or goat within the City may file with the City Clerk a written application for a permit, stating the location and the facilities to be provided, the size of the premises of the applicant, the number and type of each to be kept, the purpose of the keeping, and the names and telephone numbers of persons who can respond to any emergency involving the animals in the owner’s absence. The City Clerk shall notify all neighbors within 100 feet of the property lines of the application and invite the neighbors to submit comments for or against the application to the office of the City Clerk within 15 calendar days of the date of the notice. Within 10 business days after the 15-day comment period, the City Clerk shall decide whether the application meets the terms and conditions of Article III of this Chapter, and issue or deny the permit. Any applicant or aggrieved neighbor within 100 feet of the property lines of the applicant may appeal the decision of the City Clerk to the Health and Environmental Services Advisory Board, which may affirm, reverse or modify the decision of the City Clerk.

Each permit shall be for a term of three (3) years from the date thereof, unless sooner revoked by the City Manager or such person designated by the City Manager, after a hearing.

A permit granted under this Section may be renewed for a period of three (3) years through the same procedure set forth above for an initial application.

Permits granted under this Article may not be transferred upon sale or gift from a permitted owner to a new owner.

Sec. 33.220. Required Facilities; Running at Large Prohibited.

a. All chickens permitted to be kept in the City shall be securely restrained and enclosed in a suitable shelter, chicken coop, aviary, or other outbuilding or enclosure, upon the premises of the owner, and shall not be permitted to be at large at any time. Enclosures for chickens shall be completely enclosed including a roof to prevent chickens from escaping the enclosure. Such shelter, chicken coop, aviary, or other outbuilding or enclosure, and any appurtenances thereto, is to be located outside the side setback area as defined by the Webster Groves

Municipal Code and may not be nearer than fifty feet to any portion of any dwelling, residence or living quarters of persons other than their owner. (Ord. No.

8040, §3, 8-4-98)

b. Chickens are limited to parcels zoned single family residential and with occupancy permits for single family residential. Chickens for lots less than 7,500 square feet or with less than 5,500 square feet of unimproved land area are prohibited except through a variance approved by the Health and Environmental Services Advisory Board. Eight (8) chickens are allowed for lots 7,500 square feet or greater. An additional chicken is allowed for each 2,500 additional lot square footage to a maximum number of twelve (12) chickens. Areas containing any shelter, chicken coop, aviary or other outbuilding, and any appurtenances thereto must either be of level grade or graded in a direction away from the property line preventing run off to adjacent property.

The City of Ballwin requires a very large parcel of land:

Sec. 5-1. Keeping animals within city restricted.
(a) Except for dogs, cats and non-domestic animals which are otherwise provided for in this Code, and traditional household pets such as caged birds, similar caged animals and aquarium animals, no person shall keep, raise, harbor, water or offer for sale any cattle, cow, bull, hog, horse, mule, jennet pony, donkey, sheep, pig, goat, chicken, goose, duck, turkey, rabbit, skunk, raccoon or any other domestic or wild animal or fowl within the city, unless such animal or fowl are kept in an enclosed area on a tract of land of two or more acres in size.
(b) Large animals (over 50 pounds) shall be limited to two per acre over a total of two acres as required in subsection (a).

Why go to the trouble?

Backyard chickeners say, with responsible ownership, chickens don’t bother anyone, and a surplus of roosters is a small price to pay for the benefits chickens provide — from fresh eggs to insect control. They also point to one surprising benefit: A study found that a hen can consume about 7 pounds of food scraps a month, or about 84 pounds a year.  (Full story)

Urban Homesteading doesn’t stop with chickens.  Some are replacing their front lawns with raised garden beds and adding new family pets:

“Looking for a pet that can live in your urban yard, answers to its name, wears a leash for strolls – and might produce milk you can drink or turn into cheese?  Meet the miniature goat.

The Carbondale, Ill., Planning Commission was debating this month whether to allow residents to keep chickens when Priscilla Pimentel, a member of the city’s Sustainability Commission, added goats to the mix.  “If you can have a 250-pound dog in town, why not a miniature goat that can produce milk?” she says. “It’s just common sense.” (USA Today: Goat fans, cities butting heads)

Some that I talked to are also getting into bee-keeping.  Reasons for doing so are two-fold.  First, obviously is fresh honey.  The second is to ensure their garden is pollinated so their vegetable plants produce.  Slowly those in suburban and urban areas are engaging in what was commonplace 100 years ago, but today is rare outside of industrial complexes.

Tonight Slow Food St. Louis is offering a free screening of the film Mad City Chickens, here is a trailer:


The film starts at 7:30pm at Schlafly’s Bottleworks in Maplewood.

– Steve Patterson


Unexpected green on St. Patrick’s Day

On St. Patrick’s Day I had the opportunity to witness something remarkable in a most unlikely place:

St. Louis’ MSI houses over 750 inmates who stay roughly 80 days.  Built originally for men only, it also has a female section (apprx 10-15% of the total). So what was so remarkable?  Let’s go out back and see.

I couldn’t walk the distance from the front door to the back so they drove me through the gates and series of fences to our destination.

At left is Jerome Fields, the Correctional Program Manager for the City of St. Louis.  The three women in orange are inmates at MSI.  They were all working to take this pile of soil and get it into new garden plots, from the press release:

MSI received a neighborhood greening grant from Gateway Greening for the project.  The grant provides lumber and soil for five 4’ x 20’ x 10” raised beds, one wheelbarrow and one sprinkler.   The garden will be maintained by five to 10 female residents who volunteered for the project, some guards at the facility, along with assistance from Gateway Greening staff and volunteers from Lincoln University and UMSL. The food grown will be donated to two local food pantries:  St. Vincent DePaul and Church of God at Baden.

The facility attempted a garden last year but did so by trying to plant just in the existing ground.

Charles Bryson, Director of Public Safety helped out in the morning.

Cardboard was placed over the grass to kill the grass underneath. The facility tried gardening last year but it failed because they tried planting in the existing ground.

The base of one guard tower will serve as the tool shed for the gardening equipment.  Click here to see the Fox 2 story.

– Steve Patterson