Urban Harvest STL
Over 23 million Americans live in food deserts - areas where access to fresh foods is limited or nonexistent. In Saint Louis, over 56% of the city's residents live in food deserts. Federal funding and tax break incentives have helped, but not nearly enough. Local, grass-roots initiatives like Urban Harvest STL are working to fill the gaps by creating urban gardens and educational outreach in these overlooked and underserved communities.
Urban Harvest wasn't started by a farmer, but by Mary Ostafi, an architect by profession. Her story is a reminder that there are times when you can't wait for change and hope for the best. Sometimes, you have roll up your sleeves and build the change you want to see in the world from the ground (or roof) up.
What’s the story behind where you are today? How did you get here?
Urban Harvest STL began as a grassroots initiative to grow food in downtown St. Louis by founder and Executive Director, Mary Ostafi. Her background in architecture and interest in food equity led her to pioneer the building of the first rooftop farm in St. Louis, the FOOD ROOF Farm. This vision took root in the community and over the years has grown from a community garden to several urban farms which are an educational platform for the community and a source of healthy food for underserved people living in nearby food deserts. Collaboration with community partners through growth, distribution and education has allowed our mission to thrive.
What’s your why? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
All members of our community should have equitable access to fresh, healthy food regardless of one's socioeconomic status, race or location. In St. Louis, 56% of city residents live in food deserts without access to healthy food within a 1/2 mile of their home. Food deserts most commonly affect people from lower socioeconomic status and people of color who don’t have access to culturally relevant food. Urban Harvest STL believes that through partnering with local visionaries and community leaders we can change these statistics turning food deserts into food forests one seed at a time.
What’s on the list for today? What’s next? Where do you hope on going?
As we grow, our community grows. Our goals are to further develop our partnerships through collaboration efforts such as the Veggie Bike. Launched just this past spring, the Veggie Bike is a partnership with St. Louis Metro Market to bring farm fresh produce from our farms into neighborhoods without grocery stores to build community around food and direct people toward the full service St. Louis Metro Market food bus parked nearby. We also plan to further our education programs as we see the next generation take root in the vision of local farms creating an equitable food system in St. Louis.
What’s one thing that you’d like people to know?
We often think of deserts in terms of desolation. But just as deserts have a living, thriving ecosystem, we know there is power, history, and vibrancy in the people and communities that constitute food deserts. It is our passion to work together as a community centered on one mission that will have a truly regenerative impact.
As you seek to plant seeds in your city, follow the model of nature, an abundance of diversity gives way for unity.