Embracing a Vibrant Future
As the City of Saint Louis strives to renew itself, important choices must be made. The scope of the challenge is vast and complex, encompassing economic development, social balance and growth, infrastructure, education, and other factors essential to ensuring a competitive, vibrant and relevant future for the region.
Those choices are particularly challenging for a city whose population has declined from over 850,000 in the 1950's to under 320,000 today, creating a sense of urgency to determine the best course for the community to grow and thrive.
Launching an Urban Adventure
Within this climate, community meetings occurred in the fall of 2014 involving residents of the city's Shaw neighborhood, professionals from a variety of disciplines, and representatives of Saint Louis University. The ambition of those meetings was to propel the development of an urban resource center focused on two major challenges facing St. Louis and other large American cities: poor nutrition and inadequate science education, especially among disadvantaged youth.
From these meetings grew an initiative called the Green House Venture focused on urban food production using a unique combination of education techniques for elementary school students.
Bringing the Vision to Life
To bring the project to life, several initial steps were taken. A formal organization was created; a 501(c)(3) designation was obtained; a Board of Directors was formed; legal and organizational structures were created for the Urban Education Alliance; and an architectural firm was retained to design a facility that forms the core of a 5-garden educational complex.
The location for Venture center was chosen in an area with a concentration of elementary schools that are in close proximity to major scientific, educational and economic institutions. Working under the direction of Saint Louis University, the four elementary schools comprising the newly formed Alliance include:
- Tower Grove Christian Academy
- Mullanphy Investigative Learning Center
- Saint Louis Language Immersion Schools
- Saint Margaret of Scotland
This unique education partnership touches more than 2,000 students, representing African American, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic and Multi-Racial students. From the outset, the faculty of these schools and professors from Saint Louis University have guided the development of the curriculum and design of the program.
Enriching the Student Experience
The Ambassadors Program was launched in fall 2016 at one of the Alliance schools with a class of 20 students — 5 from each school. It was our first step toward engaging students from all four participating schools in the vision for a dramatically new approach to elementary education in bio-science and urban agriculture.
In our May 2018 progress report, we highlighted the following key accomplishments that are providing a strong foundation for the future:
- Executed Memorandums of Agreements for the formation of The Urban Education Alliance, a collaboration of four diverse and separately owned elementary schools in the South-Central Corridor of St. Louis City
- Executed Memorandums of Understanding for collaboration with Saint Louis University, Tower Grove Park, and Gateway Greening
- Completed design and preliminary architectural drawings for the main educational facility
- Launched the Ambassadors Program, the Venture's initial educational curriculum
- Initiated the Adventure Summer Camp
- Purchased land for the future construction of the Green House Venture Education Center and four other educational garden areas
- Obtained necessary lease and permit from MODOT to develop the I-44 Embankment Education Garden in June of 2018
- Launched the Green House Venture website and attracted notable media coverage
- Selected as a 2018 recipient of the What’s Right with the Region award, sponsored annually by FOCUS St. Louis
Building a Center of Attraction
The focal point of the Green House Venture is a science education and outreach center with approximately 8,000 square feet, located at the intersection of Lawrence and DeTonty Streets. When constructed, it will contain a greenhouse, a classroom, a children's growing gallery, and a teaching lab, all designed to stimulate an interest in science, urban food production, community engagement, sustainability and economic development.
Inside the facility, the Venture will demonstrate a number of sophisticated aquaponic growing techniques involving fish breeding, plant fertilization from fish tanks, soiless beds, and vertical plant growing. Outside, it will feature a weather station, an ozone garden, a shade trellis, a climbing fruit garden, a pollinator garden, and light-weight aeroponic growing on a roof-top terrace. Across DeTonty Street on the I-44 hillside embankment, will be a series of raised terraces for growing native Missouri crops.
Reaching Across the Region
To broaden the access and impact of the project, the facility will be equipped with advanced technological capabilities to reach out to other schools in the metropolitan area through online videos and live streaming of teaching sessions. Portable school kits also will be made available for teachers to take back to their classrooms.
The Green House Venture is truly a unique addition to the education landscape of St. Louis, one that will bring critical focus to essential health and education issues that that must be addressed to ensure the future vitality of the region.