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Forum poses the question: Can green jobs help reduce poverty?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 2, 2009 - Through Gateway Greening, a nonprofit group that supports 180 community gardens across St. Louis, people who are or were homeless become students of urban agriculture.

As part of the City Seeds program, they get instruction on mowing, planting, composting and turf management. The hope is that people with otherwise grim job prospects will pick up skills that allow them to find employment in a related field. The program is also considered therapy for those who have a mental illness or are undergoing drug or alcohol rehabilitation.

Annie Mayrose, urban agriculture coordinator at Gateway Greening, is used to laying out the mission of City Seeds.

“We’re trying to get the word out as far as what are green jobs and what are more creative ways to get people out of poverty,” Mayrose said. “Right now there are a lot of words thrown out about green-collar work, but there’s not necessarily an understanding of what that means in real life. [The program] serves as an example.”

Mayrose will speak about the significance of City Seeds during an event Tuesday focusing on initiatives to reduce poverty and improve the environment, particularly in poor communities. The forum, “Green Pathways Out of Poverty: A Vision for the Future," takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. at Central Reform Congregation, 5020 Waterman Ave.

Among the event sponsors is the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, which describes itself as the public policy arm of the organized Jewish community in St. Louis. Gail Wechsler, director of domestic issues and social justice for the council, said the forum topic fits into the group’s mission: It has both a poverty and environmental issues committee.

Along with other council chapters across the country, the St. Louis council held a forum last September on how to get policymakers to focus on issues related to poverty. This year, the focus is on poverty and green jobs. Wechsler said the topic is particularly relevant in the Midwest because of the lost manufacturing jobs and the need for jobs in the growing environmental sector.

The forum will include an introduction to some of the initiatives already in place in St. Louis, as well a discussion of the ways the city can adopt programs popular in other cities. Wechsler said she's interested to hear panelists talk about how to ;persuade lawmakers to invest in green jobs for low-income people at a time when discretionary money is tight. One such pitch: Creating jobs that put people on the front lines of retrofitting buildings can lead to energy savings down the line.

Event organizers are asking people who attend the forum to send postcards to their legislators to make the case for funding green-jobs programs and giving incentives to builders who follow national environmental standards. “We want people to know how to get involved and get political leaders to pay attention,” Wechsler said.

Panelists include Mayrose; Joe Thomas, Missouri coordinator for the Apollo Alliance; state Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford, D-St. Louis; Jackie Timm of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis; and Kyle Hunsberger of Habitat for Humanity St. Louis.

Hunsberger will talk about giving young people skills to help them find jobs making buildings more energy efficient. In the program, the Urban League finds 18- to 25-year-olds who are trained by a carpenters' union. The participants visit a Habitat for Humanity job site, where they get the hands-on training in retrofitting buildings, among other projects.

People who take part in the City Seeds program often find work at farmers' markets. They come from St. Patrick Center, which aims to help people who are homeless or are in danger of becoming homless become self-sufficient.

Gateway Greening is the lead organization involved in the project. The collaboration includes other nonprofits and colleges that seek to provide the job training, as well as to improve food security in St. Louis, and increase the production and distribution of locally grown fresh food for low-income residents.