Get Involved: Growing Community

 In Feature, Style

Put your green thumb to work and improve your habitat this spring.


Spring cleaning takes on a whole new meaning, thanks to these two local organizations that give the green light for people to clean up and beautify their neighborhoods. The best part? There are plenty of ways for you to get involved this time of year.

Gateway Greening was founded in 1984 as a volunteer program to help educate at-risk youth and improve lives in inner-city neighborhoods. Its gardens help provide affordable, fresh foods to residents, while turning vacant lots into tools to educate and beautify. Gateway Greening has since introduced several more volunteer programs, including the City Seeds Urban Farm, which offers job training in green horticulture for veterans and horticulture therapy for people overcoming homelessness, mental illness and prison release.

The Community Garden program serves to unite a community by bringing its residents together to create and maintain gardens or greening projects to better their neighborhood. Gateway Greening supports more than 200 community gardens around the city by providing supplies, tools and training. Bell Demonstration Garden in Grand Center was a series of 22 vacant lots before Gateway purchased the land in 2001. A living example of what volunteers and hard work can accomplish, the garden now supplies over 8,000 pounds of fresh food to Food Outreach and other local shelters and pantries each year.

Gateway Greening is always looking for volunteers to join and lend a hand in existing community gardens, and it encourages the most ambitious to start community gardens in their own neighborhoods. Aspiring gardeners can fill out an application for a small grant to help with start-up costs, and receive expert advice on how to begin a successful garden. Gateway believes that three things are necessary for a successful garden: committed gardeners, established meeting times and work days, and identification of garden resources.

Operation Brightside is one of the area’s oldest nonprofit cleanup and greening organizations, and it’s easy to see why. To celebrate 30 years of service, the group is taking on a new name, Brightside St. Louis, and plans to plant half a million daffodils around the city this spring. Brightside provides St. Louis with beautification and greening programs like Graffiti Eradication, Flowers for Downtown and Project Blitz, a twoweek-long citywide cleanup effort each spring. Brightside also supports more than 600 community gardens around the city by providing flowers, shrubs and grass, as well as a wealth of knowledge about sustainable landscaping practices. Last summer, the organization partnered with volunteer Marines to build and plant a demonstration garden and learning center near their headquarters in the Shaw neighborhood. This summer, it plans to expand the garden with the help of a grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The main focus of Brightside is beautifying community areas, like parks, medians, entrances to neighborhoods and the grounds of schools and churches. Executive Director Mary Lou Green believes that participating in community greening efforts like these helps strengthen residents’ ties to the neighborhood, and encourages them to make it a nicer place to live. The organization distributed more than 300,000 flowers around St. Louis last year and doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.

Getting involved in your community has never been easier or more rewarding. Volunteer on your own, or as part of a group—in your own neighborhood or away from home. Along with the sense of having created something beautiful and useful, you’ll likely go home with a few new friends—and perhaps even some fresh vegetables.

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