Spring Forward into Summer Programming
By Lisa Carrico, Program Director, Missouri Humanities
On March 20th, the Spring Equinox officially announced the arrival of the spring season here in the Northern Hemisphere. The appearance of the first crocus and daffodil blooms reminds us that the days will get longer and warmer, but also that the availability of fresh and local seasonal produce is near. Soon we can put aside our winter squash and enjoy early spring favorites like lettuce, spinach, asparagus, and carrots.
Before joining the Missouri Humanities team, I worked for the St. Louis Zoo as an Outreach Instructor and for Local Harvest Grocery, a small neighborhood store that sources as many products as possible from within 150 miles of the city. While in different ways, both jobs allowed me to educate others about a few things I love—conservation, sustainability, and food.
At Local Harvest I became familiar with family farmers and artisans as they delivered items to the store, and connected consumers to the stories behind the farmers—their farms, their seasonal products, and their farming practices. As an educator for the Zoo, one of my favorite programs to facilitate was called, “Dirt Ate My Lunch.” Kids played in a worm compost bin to learn about food decomposition and the importance of dirt. During this program kids would pick out their favorite food (and as you guessed, 90% of the time it was pizza) and with my help we would trace the ingredients back to the dirt. For many of the kids this connection from grocery store to their plates, back to the dirt was such a powerful “aha” moment.
With our 2022 Signature Series of “Eat, THINK, & Be Merry: Missouri’s Foodways & Edible History” I feel like my past and current educational worlds are colliding, and I’m having so much fun as an MH Program Director creating content around monthly “food-related” themes presented through a humanities lens. One project that I’m particularly excited about is our desire to create video content exploring the role of community gardens and urban farming in Missouri.
While coming together to share a meal can be an incredibly connecting experience, something that has become particularly clear in my work over the years is that food is not created equal. Not everyone has easy access to nutritional food and fresh produce. Both urban and rural Missourians find themselves in food deserts—low-income areas where urban residents are at least a mile from a grocery store and rural residents are 10 miles away. Disproportionately found in high-poverty areas, food deserts create extra, everyday hurdles that can make it harder for kids, families, and communities to grow healthy and strong. In addition, limited access to food means those in food deserts either spend extra time and money getting to grocery stores or go without fresh produce.
As interest grows from Missouri consumers to eat locally sourced food, and as urban and rural residents see the opportunities for economic growth and increased healthy food access through urban farming, community garden efforts, public assistance programs, and shifts in public policy making, MH wants to take the opportunity this summer to highlight the community work being done across Missouri to address food uncertainty.
Both urban farms and community gardens are viable solutions for people living in food deserts and underserved areas. They can be beneficial additions to many communities by increasing availability of nutritious foods, strengthening community ties, supporting neighborhood identity, reducing “food miles” and creating more sustainable food systems.
Is there a community garden or urban farm in your area that is demonstrating exemplary work in connecting its community to food resources? We are eager to highlight people, farmers, and organizations who are addressing food scarcity and insecurity in both rural and urban parts of the state. We want to hear from you! If you have a story to share, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.