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Saint Louis Science Center's new GROW exhibit invites visitors to step into farmers' shoes

There's a tremendous distance between where food is grown and how it travels to the dinner plate, and people living in cities often only see where the journey ends: the grocery store.

GROW, a new exhibit opening Saturday at the Saint Louis Science Center, aims to connect people to where their food comes from through a series of hands-on activities and demonstrations. The indoor and outdoor spaces take up one acre, where the Exploradome used to be, making it the largest permanent exhibit the Science Center has built since its expansion in 1991.



By 2050, the human population is expected to double, reaching more than 9 billion people. That presents many challenges for the world's food supply, especially as experts predict a greater portion of the population will be living in urban areas.


President and CEO Bert Vescolani said that everyone has a personal connection to what they eat, which makes food an effective gateway to inspire an interest in science.


“Every time you go to the grocery store, you walk by these rows and rows of food. You don’t always connect the dots back to where it started," Vescolani said. "So this is a way to ignite that passion in areas that’s really important to the future of us.”


The centerpiece of the exhibit is the GROW Pavilion, designed by architect Gyo Obata, who also was responsible for the Science Center's James S. McDonnell Planetarium. Inside the building are classrooms for visiting schools, interactive games and maps to educate visitors about agriculture in Missouri and Illinois.


Much of the exhibit takes place outside, where there's a community garden full of raised beds, an aquaponics facility, a large combine harvester, chicken coops and a small orchard. A "fermentation station," a demonstration area that's set up like a cafe, will house programs for adults to learn about the science behind beer and wine production.


Exhibit manager Maddie Earnest said she hopes the variety will encourage visitors to replicate what they see at they Science Center in their own backyards.

“In a city, you’re not going to have acres and acres of land where you can plant. You’re going to have small areas and buildings," she said. "And I think [the exhibit] is really going to invite our visitors to think about challenges that different areas have and fun things they can do at home.”

The space also addresses environmental challenges involved in developing a sustainable food system, such as climate change and drought. One area, called "Water Works," will show people how valuable water is to food production and the importance of conserving the resource.

Earnest said she looks forward to seeing the exhibit evolve in the future. 

"What you see is not what you're going to see next year," she said. "We anticipate changing it not only seasonally but also annually and we're going to respond to what we hear from visitors and [learning] about what they'd like to know more about."

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.