Posted on November 12th, 2020 by Zane Cagle
We’ve Waited All Summer!!
As fall is the time of harvest, the timing of The Power of Neighbors in St Louis Magazine could not be better! The power of neighbors has never been so important than during a pandemic when food insecurity is very real in our city. The CWE Farm team has worked daily since March bringing fresh produce to their neighbors. The CWE Farm is a unique urban garden project that directly impacts food inequality in the St. Louis area for the last decade. What started out as a husband/wife team a decade ago has continued to grow both in harvested produce and community development.
One wonders how an urban garden grows successfully on a vacant lot in St. Louis? It happens due to community support and hours of volunteer work. Last fall, the future of the farm was in jeopardy as the founders were planning on moving to Florida after years of work. About the time the farm was to begin it’s 2020 season, we saw the arrival of Covid-19. The food insecurity that existed in St. Louis has become all the more apparent and severe during the pandemic. The founders, Arthur and Nancy Culbert, developed and sustained the garden through the community, and Lee Cagle and Julia Woodard stepped up to co-manage the project.
According to founder Arthur Culbert, the idea occurred to him one morning as he passed a vacant lot on Waterman. He thought it would make an ideal place for a community garden. The next day, the lot owner graciously agreed to place a community garden as long as the Culbert’s promised not to open a car wash as the owner was providing the water. The CWE Farm broke ground on Earth Day in 2011. You can follow CWE Farm on Facebook and Instagram, but be warned, it will make you hungry.
In April of 2020, the CWE Farm celebrated its 10 year anniversary by raising money for local food pantries. The mission that started the CWE Farm continues under the new volunteer co-management of Lee Cagle and Julia Woodard: The Central West End Farm’s mission is to eliminate hunger within our community by growing, harvesting and delivering organic vegetables and fruits to clients at local food pantries–Arthur and Nancy Culbert.
Farmers of the Central West End Farm
The farm had simple beginning as an aspiring idea that turned into a real community project.
Founding farmers: Arthur Culbert, urban farmer, CWE resident and faculty at UMSL. Culbert’s work in health education is lengthy thus it was natural for such an idea to occur to him as he walked down Waterman one day, 10 years ago. It turned out to be a huge commitment and a lot of hard work.
Nancy Culbert, co-founder spent the last 16 years as Director of Student Services at the College for Public Heath at St. Louis University. Nancy enjoyed everything from weeding to constantly cleaning the soil. Meeting individuals helping to create community on the farm helped contribute to the enormous success of the farm.
Lee Cagle, co/manager for 2020 has been an amateur gardener and resident of the Central West End. Lee first starting admiring the garden in 2012 when her daughter Aiko was in fourth grade at New city School and participated in the activities of the farm. Lee volunteered at the farm and then became a co-manager when the Farm’s future was uncertain. She then asked fellow New City parent and avid gardener, Julia Woodard to partner and continue the work of the farm.
Julia Woodard, co manager for the 2020 farm and CWE resident provided her the opportunity to combine several of her favorite things which she cares deeply: food insecurity, community building, inter-generational social justice work, education and organic gardening. Likewise, her children were active in the farm while they were in fourth grade. Julia and Lee share the challenges and work of managing the farm and their volunteers.
Decade Down and Going Strong
In February, Cagle and Woodard rolled up their sleeves and began the acquisition of seeds, seedlings and developing an overall plan. Working cooperatively together and building on Arthur and Nancy’s plans, the farm sprung forth in spite of a the pandemic. It turned out to be a even greater opportunity to get outside in the early weeks of the pandemic and involve their children as well. Hours of hard work since then has resulted in thousands of pounds of produce for the nearby food pantry.
According to Cagle and Woodard, they consulted local pantry clients about what produce they would actually like to have. Cagle said, “While everyone is a fan of tomatoes, they found that collard greens are good growers as they can harvest those all season. They discovered that people want mustard greens, okra, eggplant and onions and that really, radishes are not that popular”.
Each year, there are larger harvests beginning in 2011 with 1,200 pounds of produce to 2017 with 3,200 pounds.
According to Woodard, “Serving people with fresh produce is absolutely our mission, but another part is bringing people together. A lot of people in our city go to bed hungry. The food pantries we support are physically close to the garden, and when the kids walk to the pantry, it’s very clear: These are our neighbors we are servings and working with”
CWE Farm is a Garden Growing the Community
So, while Cagle and Woodard manage the farm including the bulk of the work (including their children), the larger community really plays important roles.
Neighbors: One special neighbor supplies unlimited water from his nearby building and mows around the perimeter of the garden and keeps an eye on things. Another great neighbor refinishes the benches and picnic tables every spring without being asked.
New City School’s fourth grade citizenship class learns about inequalities in St. Louis and why fresh produce is important for everyone. Beginning in 2012, 4th graders got involved with the CWE Farm. Students help germinate seeds, plant, weed, harvest and deliver food to the pantry. When driving by the CWE Farm, you will often find people there working, gathering for a picnic, or simply enjoying the sights and smells of the garden. During this pandemic, the farm has also provided space for individuals to walk around and spend time outside. Often, you can find someone with their laptop at the picnic table getting some work done at the picnic table. From time to time, really great volunteers show up with various expertise such as degrees in botany! The bulk of the work was done by Woodard and Cagle and their kids and the garden has become a beautiful focal point in an already beautiful community.
You can follow the Central West End Farm progress and certainly, you can volunteer!!! It has been a family event for Cagle and Woodard including their children as they have spent hours in the garden this spring, summer and fall with planting, hydrating, weeding and harvest. The CWE Farm can always use more hands!
Any support you would like to give to the Central West End Farm can be done through their website or contacting them through Facebook. Donations of funds for seeds and materials as well as volunteering time is always appreciated.