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 301,578 today, creating a sense of urgency to determine the best course for the community to grow and thrive.

Four children carrying field notebooks inspect the field on the GHV embankment

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 the educational complex.

The location for Venture’s Education 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 1,500 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 along with partners and collaborators throughout the community 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 school facilities 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.

Celebrating Accomplishments

During the past several years since the Venture’s beginning, , we have made significant strides with key accomplishments that provide 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
  • Purchased land, and completed design and architectural drawings for construction of the state-of-the-art Education Center
  • Launched the Ambassadors Program, the Venture’s initial educational curriculum
  • Created the Adventure Summer Camp
  • Completed the development of the Embankment Greenway with its Terrace Garden and Pollinator Recovery Habitat along the south side of Interstate Highway 44
  • 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 our STEM Education Center with approximately 8,000 square feet of growing and learning space, located at the intersection of Lawrence and DeTonty Streets. When constructed, it will contain a greenhouse, a classroom, a 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, soilless 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, we have already completed the Embankment Green, a 3.7-acre expanse that features our Terrace Garden and Pollinator Recovery Habitat. The Green House Venture is one of the first programs in the nation to develop such a space in response to a 2015 directive from the Federal Highway Commission to plant flowers and vegetation along federal highways that attract bees and butterflies to revitalize the pollinator population.

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 and across the country through online videos and live streaming of teaching sessions. The Green House Venture is a fresh addition to the educational landscape of St. Louis, one that is already creating innovative ways to improve elementary education and early childhood nutrition in ways that contribute to the future vitality of the nation’s most important regional hub for research in bioscience and agriculture.