A Visit To New Roots Urban Farm

A favorite aspect of the EarthDance Apprenticeship for many apprentices (A.K.A. Freshman Farmies) is the chance to visit neighboring farms.  On a recent steamy August evening, the EarthDance crew paid a visit to New Roots Urban Farm.   The farmies started their tour with Stephen Inman and Heather Hollingsworth, two of New Roots’ farmers.  Under cover of the farm’s hoop house/ open-air kitchen, Stephen and Heather spoke to EarthDance staff and apprentices about the farm’s history and mission.

Located in the Saint Louis Place neighborhood of North St. Louis, New Roots has operated as a cooperatively owned and managed farm since 2004.   The farmers who founded New Roots had worked on rural organic farms, but they became concerned that few people could afford the high-end vegetables they grew.  They were eager to grow food for the residents of a neighborhood like Saint Louis Place, a so-called ‘food desert.’  As Stephen explained, it was a very direct approach to social justice work: “They said, ‘There’s no food, so lets start a farm.’”  Commitment to growing high-quality food for people who otherwise would not have access to it remains the goal of New Roots’ activities.

At various points New Roots has also hosted a summer camp, overseen large financial grants, tended an orchard, and operated a 20-member Community Supported Agriculture program.   These days, says Inman, the collective is choosing to pursue fewer projects, to which they can devote more attention. Currently, New Roots gets food to needy people through its donations to a women’s shelter (nearby Karen House) and its booth at The North City Farmers Market, where their organic veggies are priced affordably.

The farm, located on just a third of an acre of ground, is remarkably productive and diverse. Thriving rows of onions, okra and greens are interspersed by wood chip paths that lead to a chicken coop and beehive. Two greenhouses are home to a new aquaponics set-up: young tilapia swim circles in a (Craigslist-procured) kiddie pool, while a pond-pump circulates water from the fish “tank” to a biofiltration system designed to continuously process the fishes’ waste by sending the water through an engineered mini-wetland.

New Roots’ cooperative business model, and its members’ mission of farming for social justice make it a unique participant in St. Louis’ urban farming scene.  Thank you Stephen and Heather for hosting EarthDance’s Freshman Farmies!