Established in 2009, LOVEtheLOU (LTL) is a non-profit faith-based organization which serves to enrich the lives and environment of people living in the North St. Louis City area. Through transforming actions, LTL strives to be a resource for youth in areas which might not have the means of education to provide life skills and lessons. Their work in the community they serve focuses on three facets, Create, Join, and Heal.
GARDENING AS A COMMUNITY EXPERIENCE
While LTL has a wide variety of community support programs, one of their programs provides students with practical experience in gardening in one of their established community garden plots. Student volunteers have the opportunity to share their own individual time and talents, working outside and learning garden fundamentals in exchange for practical knowledge and pay for their efforts. The challenge, says Pam Keck, who is the youth education manager of LTL, “is to work with and love people you don’t know. We mentor the students and are called to help students to allow themselves to find Jesus Christ.”
Starting the gardens in 2015, LTL has had a tremendously positive effect in the North St. Louis City area. They’ve established four gardens. With Garden 1 recently having been bought by a resident in the community, the remaining three gardens span 8 lots of land. The gardens are available and accessible to all at any time of day or night. The gardens feature flower beds and vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, flowers, herbs, kale, and beans, numerous benches, a fountain, two piles of compost, a newly built swing set, and the largest garden (4) even features a chicken coop. The harvested produce of each garden is then offered for sale to the surrounding community, from a garden store staffed by the students, with proceeds supporting the program. If LTL doesn’t manage to sell all of the produce, then the families of the students are donated the produce that remains.
DETAILS OF THE PROGRAM
The garden is managed and sustained by students in the LIFT program, LTL’s youth mentoring program. The LIFT program empowers students in the 12 – 18-year-old age range (8th grade to high school) with one-on-one mentoring, tutoring, trips, empowering experiences, life skills, and discussion groups. During the months of June – August, 35 students participate in a summer gardening program with the opportunity to be compensated $40 per Saturday they work. The gardening activities include trimming, weeding, watering, harvesting, spreading compost, and group discussions. Before the students step foot in the garden, they participate in a three hour long educational seminar where they are taught the medicinal, environmental, and the vast benefits of growing your own food.
The benefits of LTL’s community garden program have not only educated countless students and provided homegrown produce to the surrounding neighborhood, but area residents have been inspired within the community to take it upon themselves to beautify their own houses and gardens, occasionally stopping by LTL’s gardens to enjoy the peace and tranquility each of the gardens provide.
St. Louis Composting has been working with LTL for almost three years now, supporting their efforts with garden soils and compost to enrich the soil in each of their gardens. We are happy to support our friends at LTL and are pleased to be a small part of their incredible mission.
For the St. Louis youth, LOVEtheLOU is seeking to inspire change, encouraging a mission that promotes communities to move from “surviving to thriving”. For anyone interested in creating their own personal or community garden, Keck advises, “take risks and chances, don’t worry or be intimated, and educate yourself, because it won’t happen overnight.” Great advice for those that wish to make a difference in their community, but feel overwhelmed by the task. It all starts with the first plant and grows from there with a vision and plan for the future, hard work, and a lot of love. In the end, you will have created something beneficial for the community and forged new relationships that can last a lifetime, not to mention educated the next generation on the vast benefits of gardening. LTL preaches that love, then care, equals the love for Jesus in your heart.