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COVID-19 Crisis Is Reviving 'Victory Gardens' In St. Louis

Children harvest plants at St. Mark's Church youth garden, offically named the Garden of Eatin'. 4/3/2020
Gateway Greening
Children harvest plants at St. Mark's Church youth garden, offically named the Garden of Eatin'.

During the World Wars, thousands of Americans planted victory gardens to prevent food shortages.

Americans turned schoolyards and vacant lots into community gardens. Even Uncle Sam can be seen holding a garden hoe in propaganda posters.

By May 1943, victory gardens accounted for 40% of produce in America, according to the Smithsonian. St. Louis was no exception. Now, with this pandemic, the movement is back.

Gateway Greening is a St. Louis nonprofit that has provided resources to start over 200 community gardens, with a focus on urban agriculture. 

It had to cancel its annual plant sale on Saturday, but Executive Director Matt Schindler said he wants to keep people gardening. 

So, instead of trying to sell the seedlings, Gateway Greening chose 10 local gardens to give over 3,000 plants to, including broccoli, asparagus and strawberries.

Schindler said he would rather see people putting the seedlings to use now, as many gardens help feed local communities or stock food pantries. 

“Even before the pandemic, a lot of these gardens do give away their food to other people,” he said. “I think you're gonna see more of that going forward.”

In addition to being a food source, Schindler also said gardening is therapeutic. 

“In a lot of places, that community garden or school garden is a focal point,” he said. “It is a place to come together. It's just a little bit awkward right now, and you need to stand six feet away.”

Schindler cautioned that gardeners still need to practice social distancing by using personal gloves, not sharing tools and staying home when sick. 

Gateway Greening is still dropping off wood and soil for new community-led projects but will not provide volunteers. And the pandemic has dealt the nonprofit a blow financially, as all of its events are canceled until May. 

Since classes are canceled and the demonstration garden is closed, Gateway Greening is adapting its curriculum to YouTube tutorials.

“People are seeing the value of growing their own food again, and they have time for it now, too — which is good and bad,” Schindler said.

With a record amount of Americans either furloughed, laid off or fired, backyard gardening may make a comeback.

To help individuals start their own gardens, Gateway Greening is having a 24-hour fundraiser April 7.

Correction: Gateway Greening's Executive Director is Matt Schindler. In a previous version, his first name was wrong.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

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