Friday, August 31, 2007

University of Missouri Extension connects farmers to inner city communities

ST. LOUIS – Because fewer and fewer grocery stores are serving inner cities, fresh produce is difficult to find for families who live in these areas. In one city, University of Missouri Extension is addressing the problem through a project called City Seeds.

With the help of MU Extension, farmers outside of St. Louis sell produce to about 40 families in north St. Louis city. The goal is to provide inner city communities with the opportunity to purchase fresh quality food at a low cost.

“In the communities that we are working in, most of the grocery stores have pulled out, and there is not that access to fresh fruits and vegetables that is in other areas of St. Louis,” said Tricia Wagner, MU Extension local foods specialist.

Partnering with farmers near St. Louis is very important. The project helps farmers expand their customer base. The farmers involved with the City Seeds project know their produce already has a buyer.

“You grow the produce, and you know it is already sold before you put the seed in the ground,” said Michelle Wagstaff, who farms with her husband, Mark, in Silex, Mo.

Wagner said the biggest challenge for the project is transportation. In many cases, farmers are still nearly two hours from inner city communities in St. Louis. The project must find a way to get the food to these families.

“The pooling of the resources of all the different growers so that they could bring all their products to one location and then transport it together into the city is extremely important,” Wagner said.

“It allows us to earn money when we can continue building, establishing and growing this garden,” said Mark Wagstaff.

With the help of a federal grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, families from the inner city communities receive $25 worth of produce for only $7.

“You get a good box full of vegetables that carries me on to the next week until I come back,” said Wendy McPherson, St. Louis resident.

Additional produce is sent to farmers markets and given to food banks and shelters.

Other organizations participating in the City Seeds project include Gateway Greening and Operation Food Search.

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