The Nature Conservancy’s Missouri Cities Program works alongside local communities to grow equitable, nature-based solutions that aim to improve the health, well-being and quality of life for both people and nature in the St. Louis region.
There is no singular issue facing the social, ecological and economic health of St. Louis. These issues are diverse, complex and interconnected. Yet, we believe there is power in building cross-sector partnerships and re-imagining ways to integrate nature back into the built environment to help solve some of our region’s most pressing environmental challenges.
We aim to support the visions and amplify the leadership of local communities to collaboratively co-create robust conservation solutions.
St. Louis sits at the confluence of two of the mightiest river systems in the country.
“We are uniquely positioned as a city to invest in practices that celebrate our region’s ecological significance and honor the human and non-human communities, both past and present, that call this region home," says Rebecca Weaver, TNC's Missouri cities program manager.
“The nature-based solutions that we’re investing in seek to both reduce the harmful impacts of pollutant nutrients on urban waterways and support the innovative ideas and solutions coming from within our city’s most impacted communities.”
Oasis Urban Farm at Jubilee Community Church
Once a half-acre of vacant land behind Jubilee Community Church in North St. Louis, the Oasis Urban Farm, established in 2018, is a thriving hub of local organic food production, job creation and native habitat.
A 150,000-gallon cistern, funded through the St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District’s Project Clear Program, captures rainfall from the church’s rubber roof to irrigate the urban farm and orchard and keeps rainwater out of the city’s combined sewer system—reducing overflow into the Mississippi River.
In partnership with St. Louis businesses Custom Foodscaping and Good Life Growing The Nature Conservancy funded the farm’s design, installation, soil, tools, plants and trees. And TNC also funds a hands-on green-jobs training program for church members and neighbors, which trains a four-person crew in on-site farm operations, maintenance and native landscaping.
Growing an Oasis in North St. Louis
Guests Pastor Andy Krumsieg, Donna Washington and Rebecca Weaver talk about Project Oasis and its impact on the community.
Opening: You're listening to It's in Our Nature, the podcast that celebrates the connections between people and nature, with hosts, Adam McLane, The Nature Conservancy's Missouri state director. For more information, visit nature.org/missouri
Adam McLane: Hello everyone. I'm Adam McLane, Missouri state director for The Nature Conservancy. We're excited to have you listening today. This is our first ever podcast episode, and I would say you are in luck because we have a great show planned and really our goal with this podcast and the future ones is going to be sharing amazingly inspiring stories of what can happen when people in nature work together. Because that's our vision at The Nature Conservancy, which is a world where people in nature thrive together and it can and does happen before we get started. I have one request. That is, if you like this podcast, even just a little bit, please share it with others. We hope the stories we share inspire a deeper connection with the nature around you. So let's get into it. Today we're talking with some incredible people about an incredible Oasis in North St. Louis and I'm joined by the people that made it happen. Rebecca Weaver is our city's program manager. Donna Washington is the urban farm manager at project Oasis and Pastor Andy Krumsieg, did I get it?
Adam McLane: You got that.
Adam McLane: We've in practice beforehand. My goodness, Krumsieg. Right. Okay. Well, um, thank you both so much for, for joining, or all three of you. Um, and I say it's hard in my mind to think about how to paint the picture of this place over the airwaves like this when we don't have videos, but could you to try to do that for me, just take me to Project Oasis and what it looks like and what it feels like.
Pastor Andy: Wow, that's pretty cool. Um, Project Oasis, Donna's been a few years in development, isn't it?
Donna Washington: Yes it has.
Pastor Andy: And we have, um, started with a vacant lot. It's an acre and a half vacant lot, uh, used to have a warehouse on it years ago, and then it was just kind of no man's land. And then Jubilee Community Church, we got it from the city and then we just kind of cut the weeds. And then we did a project with, uh, MSD Project Clear, and we were able to dig a hole, 10 foot deep and a hundred foot square and put a water retention system in the ground. And it was a big project. We learned a lot of lessons on that. And, uh, so we we've been, we started working on this several years ago and then, uh, we were able to, uh, Dr. Moore who's our senior pastor, he was the one along with me and several others that were able to do this project. And then we, the purpose was to create it so that we could irrigate this acre and a half of property. And, um, we didn't know how we were going to get all this done, but we knew were supposed to move, move forward and doing it. And, uh, we had had a very small, um, plot of, you know, six, what did we have done with about six beds before that? Do you remember?
Donna Washington: Um, I wasn't a part of the church then, but I heard that, you know, people inside the church came out and they had sweet potatoes and cabbage and, you know, mostly the vegetables that are easily to grow in those areas. Yeah.
Pastor Andy: And we had Carol Campbell and Carol Aucamp and several other volunteers, Joanne, and uh, some other guys as well. And we did these little plots and then we thought about doing something bigger and it just became something that we thought, yes, we should do this. And we did. Um, and it's amazing how the resources have come together over the past few years. And Nature Conservancy was a big part of that in, after we were getting going, then you guys heard about it. Somebody introduced us and it was just a wonderful partnership that began to happen. And, and you guys have been so gracious to us as we're in our learning curve. And, uh, I don't know, we've learned a lot of good things...
Donna Washington: And some bad things, too.
Adam McLane: Okay. I want to hear the bad things, Donna. Spill it.
Donna Washington: Well about it. What about a year ago? We, we use black tarp over the wintertime. You know, the black plastic where we were told that we, you know, we should use clear. Well, we found out this year, that that's not a good idea. That's more for keeping the plant warm and nice and toasty in the wintertime. So we had part of our garden was covered in black and the other part was covered in clear, well, the black is nice and dark and beautiful and ready for planting the clear...weeds, all vegetables and everything. So that was a good lesson to learn.
Adam McLane: Yes, we can all take that lesson and I'm calling you next time I need to tarp something just to make sure I get it right. Well, Donna, I'm really interested in how you said you weren't there at the beginning of the project, how you became involved in the project and, um, what that looks like.
Donna Washington: Well, in the beginning I went, I left the church that I was at because it just stopped happening and I was looking for a church. So I saw Jubilee, it wasn't too far from where I lived and I went in. And then that's when I met Andy and I met Dr. Moore. They were in the garden, it wasn't a garden at the time. And they were always digging. They were always muddy. They were all, you know, and then I heard about the stories that were happening back there. How, uh, Dr. Moore would call Andy and Andy didn't hear him or vice versa because of the noise from the machines. And then we asked the congregation, you know, would they like to come in and help? And so when they asked that I wanted to help, I just wanted to get in there and help. Cause I like working outside versus inside. And in that process, more people started coming and more people started coming. So then we got people and then Mission St. Louis brought volunteers. And then Andy was told about other volunteers from out of the state. And then they were coming in helping us dig and make the berms and cover it and bring in chip wood chips. And it just took off. And we grew plants that we didn't know how it was gonna, you know, happen or what it was going to do, but it flourished. We would go out there and we would be pulling weeds. And then me, myself, I would pick up, wipe it off, pop it in my mouth. And it was the most, ahh words, I can't even say the words. It was different than the stuff that we bought in the grocery store. It was more tastier. It was more fruitier. So from there, the people that came to help us, they were always coming from all over and then the COVID happened. And then that kind of put a stunt on us. We still grew, but we didn't have as many people as we had before pulling the weeds. So the weeds were trying to overtake the plants. Yes.
Adam McLane: Wow. You took me there. I was tasting cherry tomatoes. They're still warm right off the line as I was popping into my mouth. So thank you very much for that. Um, Becca, I'm going to invite you to chime in too, about from The Nature Conservancy side, um, what this partnership has looked or felt like for you.
Rebecca Weaver: Um, yeah. Thanks for the opportunity, to join y'all this morning, um, to be a part of this project has been a dream come true for me. I think what, from my perspective,, the best part of this project are the strength of the relationships that we have with each other. And so it's been an honor to be in relationship with Pastor Andy and Pastor Gill and Dr. Moore now and Donna and Carol. And so from my background, you know, in community-based conservation work, these are the dream projects that we get to be a part of and collaborate alongside. And what's happened at Jubilee Community Church really speaks to the leadership, um, in a vision that lies within that neighborhood and within that church. And so to be a supporting partner in this effort has really been such an incredible opportunity for a demonstration of what happens when we collaborate across different sectors, across different areas of expertise. We all have something that we bring to the table, and it's been such a wonderful opportunity to see kind of how all the different pieces have been able to weave together in a way that is supportive of, you know, overall the vision that's kind of emerging through everybody participating in this project. Um, and I feel like it really is representative of what happens when we're not going to prescribe, you know, should go in what area or, you know, even from a nature perspective, it's like, yes, we know that tree canopy is beneficial. We know that it's important to have equitable access to healthy green spaces, but really what's most important, especially in a place like St. Louis is having the opportunity to support people in their own visions for what sustainable redevelopment looks like in St. Louis. And I feel like we've been able to be a part of something like that with Jubilee. Um, and it's been such a, an opportunity to, to work in this way. And I think it's important for TNC, um, to be in supportive projects like this, where we don't know necessarily what the outcomes are going to be. However, we know it's important to really listen and support community vision.
Adam McLane: Thank you, Becca. Okay. Pastor Andy. I'm going to go back to something that you said that you said, um, during the process you had done a little bit, and then you said you knew we were called to do more. I don't know that you use that word, but that's the sense that I got. Can you tell me a little bit about what that was or what that feels like? What, what was that thing that had had it become very clear that this vision needs to take place and we're going to start.
Pastor Andy: That's a good question, Adam. And I think what I've seen over the years, I'm starting to get to be an older man. I got a grey beard and, uh, life moves on. And I think we need to, when, when we look at things in life, I think we need to kind of understand the times. Whether it's on a bigger picture or certainly on a smaller picture in our own little worlds. And there had been ideas that came our way from other people prior to when we did this, that just, they were great ideas, but it just wasn't the right time. And then, uh, one of the guys that helped introduce us to this in the very beginning was a guy named Jim Holtzman. Jim's become a very good friend and he did a great job of vision casting and all that. But at the beginning, when I first met him, it just didn't seem like it was time. And later on, we got reconnected that, uh, so that he could come and get the ideas back together and it fit. And then Jim actually connected, I think, to N nature Conservancy. And it just, things started to line up in the right way. And we were able to do the, um, MSD Project Clear project. And then we created, we we've named this Jubilee Oasis Farm, right? So we're in the middle of North St. Louis in the heart of North St. Louis. And we have a challenging community and as a challenging history for a long, long time. And there are so many good things in North St. Louis, but we don't hear about the good thing. And so that's part of who we are at Jubilee. Jubilee means a new beginning. It means a new start, a fresh start. It means leaving the past behind, learning from the past, but not getting stuck in the past.
Donna Washington: Right.
Pastor Andy: And then Oasis is the concept of, ahh...something refreshing for a change, those kinds of things. Oh, I was waiting for this.
Donna Washington: New birth.
Pastor Andy: New birth, that's right. And so that's what Jubilee Oasis Farm is. And so, you know, the blackberries and the bush cherries and the tree cherries and the pawpaws and the jujubes in our little orchard space and the serviceberries and the figs, and then in the garden, we can grow anything we want every year, you know, and the partnerships, sometimes they're repeating partnerships. And sometimes there are new partnerships that develop. So you have to remain fluid, but you keep going through with a, with a persevering spirit that doesn't give up and looks for hope all the time.
Adam McLane: Wow. Thank you, Donna. Do you think you're growing more than vegetables in this project?
Donna Washington: I think I am. Uh, when we started, you know, I knew very little about nothing, you know, uh, growing up my mom and Mr. Eddie, that was my mother's friend. They always had a garden on the side of the house. So I knew about it, but I never really worked in it. I never really tilled it. I never really harvested. Only thing I did was eat it. And it was good. But working in the garden at the church, we had lots of people that came out to help us. And one of them was Matt. Matt came and helped us with the orchard part of the garden, the fig trees and the, and I've never eaten a raw fig before. And when he told us to pick it and eat it, I looked at it. I said, I don't know if I want to eat this. But when I ate it, Oh my mouth was like, wow, what was that? I want more. So you learn a lot of things. Cause I never knew that's what a fig looked like, because I've always had the fig newtons.
Adam McLane: Right.
Donna Washington: You know, the stuff in the middle. But if I had a choice between the fig newton and the raw fig, I'd take the raw.
Adam McLane: That's saying something fig newtons are pretty darn good. Huh?
Donna Washington: You wait till you taste it.
Adam McLane: Okay. So I, um, you know, I can picture, and I know about the project obviously. So you have all this water, that's not going into the combined sewer overflow system because it's going in from your roof right into this giant cistern and that you can use for irrigation and watering. Um, you've done a lot of the work up top already of getting things installed. That'll be ongoing, working with community with volunteers and I'll, I'll make sure that I, well, let's just do that now. How would people come to connect with you if they want to come out and help? And will you give them a fig Donna? If they come out and help?
Donna Washington: Yes. Yes. If there's any left.
Pastor Andy: Contact us. Uh, my email address is S T L Andy. So stlandy at, would you believe it, aol.com.
Adam McLane: Wow.
Pastor Andy: And, uh, then my phone number is 314-518-0419, 518-0419 with that 314 area code. And Donna, what's your number?
Donna Washington: Okay. My, um, email is Donna57washington@yahoo.com. And my phone number is (314) 652-7116. And if not there, you can always leave a message.
Adam McLane: So what what's next for, ah what do you see coming this year, next year? Where do you hope this grows? Um, what's that vision look like?
Donna Washington: Well, we hope that because we didn't get enough volunteers last year, we did get volunteers, but not like we did the year before, but we're hoping that more will come out. And we did have our first group of volunteers that came out this past Saturday and it was nice cause we were able to do what about six berms or more? And um, they look good. I wish we had, it took some pictures to show you, but they look good. We have not started planning. Hopefully this Saturday on the 27th, we may be able to plant. Depending on the weather. Yeah. Yeah.
Pastor Andy: Well, we had an, uh, uh, was it last fall? We had a group from Spire that came out. That was really neat. And I had, uh, a great workday over there and Nature Conservancy has come. We've had other groups that come, so we welcome any groups to come. There's plenty of things to do, pulling weeds, spreading wood chips, and organizing things. And then there's other projects that we need to do. We want to develop the composting area and some of the other kinds of things and the more volunteers, the merrier and we can organize people, can't we Donna?
Donna Washington: Yes we can.
Pastor Andy: I call her Sarge. She's good.
Donna Washington: Twenty-six years military.
Adam McLane: I shoveled some mulch right next to Sarge and so I remember her glancing over every once in a while to make sure I was still not just like leaning on the rake or the shovel. So I can attest to that.
Pastor Andy: We have, um, uh, this year we're going to, this will be the first time that we've done a hundred percent of the garden. And, uh, we have some partnerships with a couple of restaurants that have, are, we may be gonna to use some of our things. And then what is the, uh, local, local, uh, Local Harvest? Is that the one on the south side? Yes. Forgive me for forgetting the name right off hand, but there's a nice little grocery store on Morganford. Right? And they, they liked to buy our things and we're getting, we just did a little bit with them last year. This year, we're going to be doing a lot more, uh, the Food Hub, uh, right over on Sarah is going to, they they've showed, they asked us what to, uh, or we asked them, what can we grow for you that you would want to buy from us? And they said, the gives a whole list of peppers and all kinds of other herbs and other things. And then they buy, they've got some funding that they're working with. And then they prepare meals. And we actually pick up meals from them to distribute in St. Louis, we feed over 300 people a week, uh, through this whole COVID situation. So lots of cool things happen. And then the orchard is getting more mature. And we probably won't see any pawpaws for another year or two, but I can't wait until we get those. And then, uh, the next things again, this is one of those things where we know we're going to get there, but the time's not right yet, yet...is honey. We're going to eventually do honey, but we've got to develop the berms a little bit more surrounding the property. And the native flowers have been, uh, the native plants have been planted by seeds this spring. Tell them about the, uh, little, uh, thing we did last year, the demonstration.
Donna Washington: Okay. We have, um, we have a tool shed and we have, uh, two little small plots of lands. And we use that for our demonstration garden. That's where the plants that are native to Missouri. And, um, we planted them in and we didn't think they were going to flourish, but we were surprised. They came out and they were beautiful. We're going to have to show you those pictures too. But, uh, but now we have the berm that's on the Obear, that's up near the orchard and it's bare right now. And, um, me and a couple of, and Carol and a couple of other volunteers came and we planted with seeds, not with plants this time. So we're hoping that some of that, uh, starts sprouting up soon.
Pastor Andy: So what's the picture of this around is if you can picture an acre and a half piece of land and surrounding the land is a berm. That's about 18 inches tall, and it's about 20 feet from one side of the berm to the other side of the berm. And that is so it's 18 inches. And we didn't want to put a fence around this property. We didn't want to say, we don't want you here. We want it to say, let's create boundaries. Okay. Boundaries are good. And an 18 inch boundaries, not enough to keep anybody out and neither as a fence, anybody anyways. So let's create an inviting place that says, come in here. And so we planted these plants will be somewhere between 18 inches and three feet high. So we will have a natural fence of, um, about five feet tall. That will be beautiful. The bees will like it. The birds will like it, the butterfly, but yeah, it's just going to be beautiful. So it's going to take a few years to get there, but we are so much looking forward to it.
Adam McLane: Wow. That sounds amazing. And I can picture it. Um, you know, in the work that we, we do with native plants, I, you took me to a prairie, um, and I can picture what a period looks like. And, um, and I love them dearly. So I'm, I'm, I'm excited to see that get incorporated in and the bees and the whole system. Um, it sounding like each year, it grows on itself and, uh, in a way that is sustainable and thoughtful and, um, serving the community and really neat ways. So.
Pastor Andy: You know, Adam, the other part of this, the bigger picture of this, okay, this is Jubilee Oasis Farm. We have a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and volunteers, and it's all really good, but it's part of a bigger picture because our neighborhood has been so challenged over there. There's been 70 years of disinvestment in North St. Louis. And there's been all kinds of systemic things in individual things. You just name it, all. It's all happened in our neighborhood. And as North St. Louis is poised to rebirth, the geospatial agency is happening. Herbert Hoover Boy and Girls Club is doing something with the PGA and Urban Klife. There's a lot of things that are happening. We have to make sure that the people in our community can stay in our community and that they have ownership and Jubilee Oasis Farm's, right there on Obear and Carter and Penrose and Grand Avenue. Right across the street are some abandoned buildings. We're going to rehab those abandoned buildings. There's some abandoned lots. We're going to put new construction on these things and make things viable for our neighbors. So that there's health and beauty and refreshment and renewal that happens in our community and the, the garden, Jubilee Oasis Farm is the seed part of that that will grow to flourishing as time takes its course. And we do the things that we're supposed to do in the now to plant seeds for the future.
Adam McLane: Hmmm, very neat. Becca, anything you'd like to join, you've been instrumental in, um, from The Nature Conservancy side of, of, um, working in this space. Is there anything else that you would like to add about the project or the discussion today?
Rebecca Weaver: Just an immense amount of gratitude, um, to everyone involved in the project. Um, it's been, um, a few years now since I've had the privilege of knowing Andy and Donna. Um, and I think from the TNC point of things with our focus on supporting community-driven green infrastructure work, I mean, what an example to come out of the gate with, um, and, and being able to support what's happening at Jubilee Community Church. So a lot of appreciation for everyone that's helped to make this happen. And, uh, we're honored to be a part of this.
Adam McLane: I agree. I feel that gratitude as well. Well, Donna, I'm going to ask you to, to bring us home here a little bit. So, um, this podcast is about stories of people in nature, thriving together, trying to come up with solutions and projects where people can thrive and they can be taken care of their needs are met, but nature is not, is also thriving, alongside and supporting. Does that feel like what this project is in your mind and what any advice to anybody else thinking about similar projects out there?
Donna Washington: Yes. Um, very much so. Um, I've been in North St. Louis all my life. I'm 63 years old. I did come and go being in the military, but, uh, came back and I came back on the north side cause I could have went anywhere. I wanted to go once upon a time on North City, used to thrive with everything from grocery stores to laundry mats, to, um, what, anything that you can basically think of furniture, stores, uh, they had gardens and everything. And then, you know, as I grew up and got older, everything started moving out and when things started moving out, crime started coming in. So I feel that if we put this garden there and that garden is to help the community because we are in a desert, vegetable desert. And if people are able to get decent vegetables, decent food, that would help them on that end. And then from there, we can give them jobs, where they can make money, where they can take care of their families. Um, I feel that because we've been disenfranchised, if you will, that a lot of the stuff that's happening there is the reason behind that, all of that. So I know that it's not going to help a hundred percent of everybody, but if you could just help one, that one can help another and then that can help another. And then as far as the volunteer side, you might hear some real negative stuff about the north side, but if you just come in and you just meet us and you just work alongside of us and you just be with us, you know, you will see a difference. We're not asking you to live here, we're just asking you to come be a part, and then as you go away, spread it to someone else. So others can come.
Adam McLane: Thank you so much. And I, um, I echo that encouragement for anyone that's listening to this podcast. Um, I think that was a great call to action for you to reach out and just go see and volunteer and participate in this incredible project. It's inspiring and, um, nothing beats a good day at work, getting in the mud a little bit and pulling out some weeds and plants and moving some things around. So thank you for that offer. And I just want to say, thank you so much from The Nature Conservancy to both of you and to everybody that's been involved in this project. And I know that as a large, large group of people and we're inspired by it, um, to Becca's point it has, um, been a great starting place for us to start working in, in the city, um, in ways that we never had in the past. And I think you all have, have done an incredible job of teaching us how to do that equitably and the right ways and how to be supportive. So thank you deepest gratitude from The Nature Conservancy to both of you. So in closing, thank you to our guests for sharing the story with us, and thank you for tuning in for more information about the nature Conservancy and what we do visit nature.org/missouri, and be sure to subscribe to our podcast so you can catch future episodes.
Growing Green Solutions with Green The Church
In 2019, St. Louis hosted the Green The Church (GTC) annual summit, of which TNC was proud to be the presenting sponsor. The summit helped make valuable connections between national and local partners and places of worship, amplify environmental justice leaders in the St. Louis region, and provide resources for faith-based institutions in St. Louis to kick-start their own sustainability projects.
Out of the summit came the first-ever Growing Green Solutions Seed Funding Program, an initiative designed to provide catalytic funds to St. Louis faith-based institutions for the creation of their own sustainability projects.
The ten projects that received funding included the development of local green teams, the reutilization of vacant land for food production and community green spaces, increasing building energy efficiency, nature-based education, permaculture design programs and a green bus tour—spearheaded by Reverend Rodrick Burton—that aim to expose additional faith leaders to the environmental justice movement as a way to grow the local GTC network.
A strategic partnership and an environmental justice program being led by Metropolitan Congregations United has been an important and impactful outgrowth from this summit.
Community-based Air Quality Monitoring Program
The St. Louis community-based Air Quality Monitoring Program is a multi-stakeholder collaborative aimed to catalyze and increase science-based data collection and research that is accountable to, collected in partnership with and leveraged by the community as a power-building tool.
Led by Metropolitan Congregations United and the local Inter-faith Environmental Justice Task Force, The Nature Conservancy and Washington University in St. Louis are partnering to equitably, scientifically and strategically site air quality monitors at congregations throughout North and South St. Louis to fill the air quality data gap throughout the region.
The data collected by the monitors feeds into the AirWatchSTL website, which is updated hourly. It provides information about the pollutants that researchers, residents and community leaders can use to address health problems that have plagued historically disenfranchised St. Louis neighborhoods for generations.
This approach aims to build community-led power through base-building, leadership development and the development of community-led campaigns and actions to address air quality concerns to public health.
The Nature Conservancy is supporting this effort with communications strategy development and working with our partners to identify nature-based solutions to help address air quality issues.
Leveling the Planting Field with Treesilience
Dying trees on private property threaten people and property and are a barrier to new tree planting and community appreciation of trees. Removals and pruning can be prohibitively expensive, though.
Treesilience is a national initiative to address the barriers to a healthy canopy through free tree removals/replacements, mature tree maintenance and the improvement of planting conditions. We focus on areas where the canopy is either threatened or already lost and partner with local communities that stand to gain the most from more resilient urban forests.
Together with our partners at Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, Beyond Housing, Davey Tree Expert Company and the City of St. Louis Forestry Department, we are bringing Treesilience to the St. Louis region.
Greening St. Louis Schoolyards
In the urban core, welcoming, naturalized outdoor spaces can be limited—especially for children. In 2020, TNC partnered with Saint Louis Public Schools (SLPS), the Missouri Department of Conservation, Dutchtown South Community Corporation and other local stakeholders to launch a green schoolyard pilot program.
In addition to the pilot green schoolyard site at Froebel Literacy Academy, located in the Gravois Park neighborhood, the program provides a co-created framework for equitably siting green schoolyards with the greatest potential to create environmental, social and economic benefits, combining intentional community partnerships, meaningful community-led decision making and multi-stakeholder dialogue.
College Hill Neighborhood Solutions & The Peace Park Project
As an outgrowth of a study led by Washington University in St. Louis and St. Louis University scholars regarding health disparities between Black and white St. Louis residents, the College Hill Neighborhood Solutions Initiative is guided by the recommendations from the For the Sake of All: A report on the health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis and why it matters for everyone.
In spring 2017, a team of College Hill neighbors, along with more than 20 partner organizations, including TNC and Health Equity Works, began working to create a new park in College Hill—the only St. Louis City neighborhood without an official city park.
By acquiring and repurposing the 14 vacant lots that will become Peace Park, the team will bring to life the neighborhood vision of a green and healthy gathering space, complete with an entrance pavilion, recreation area, rain gardens, native trees and plants, pollinator habitat and new streetlights and sidewalks. Peace Park aims to inspire community engagement and neighborhood pride and reflect the peaceful intent of the park's creation.
The St. Louis EcoUrban Assessment
Informed by the findings from the Environmental Racism in St. Louis report, The Nature Conservancy in Missouri collaborated with local researchers, organizers and partners to co-create a dataset and StoryMap. The map aims to better visualize and understand the intersections and relationships between several environmental, socioeconomic and public health factors impacting St. Louis City and St. Louis County in Missouri, and St. Clair and Madison counties in Illinois, for the broader purposes of pointing to where nature-based solutions and policy changes can help to address some of the local environmental challenges.
Uniquely, the St. Louis EcoUrban Assessment tool aims to move beyond challenge-mapping and incorporates community asset-mapping—including geolocated anchor institutions such as churches, schools and place-based networks, as well as other community assets—to point to where existing efforts seeking to ameliorate these issues are underway and where there are opportunities to work locally to address these challenges.
Healthy Cities—Matching Gift Opportunity
Channeling Passion into Smart Giving
The anonymous backers of a Healthy Cities matching gifts program explain their strategy for getting the biggest bang for their buck.
They wanted to help
A Missouri couple, anonymous longtime donors to The Nature Conservancy, had done better as entrepreneurs than they had ever imagined as middle-class kids growing up in the St. Louis suburbs. As they saw it, their success came with the responsibility to make the world a little more just. But where to start? The number of causes was infinite, and the number of organizations dedicated to working on them was nearly so. Figuring out where to focus was more complex than just writing a check, they quickly realized.
“We want to get the best return on the money that we can,” says C. “It’s an investment.”
Today, C and M are the backers of a matching gift to TNC’s Healthy Cities strategy in Missouri, a program that tackles urban conservation issues, such as deteriorating air quality and river-polluting stormwater runoff, while working to make life healthier and more equitable for people who live there. For every donation of $10,000 or more to Healthy Cities, the husband and wife have promised a dollar-for-dollar match. The idea is not only to support important work but to offer a signpost to others who are looking to help but unsure about what to do.
C and M have worked through those types of questions themselves. Over the years, they’ve developed their own rules and strategies for making the greatest impact.
It starts with passion and curiosity.
“Find something that you’re passionate about and that you want to make better, and then research organizations and talk to the people who work there,” M advises.
She had grown up camping and fishing with her father, and her love and concern for nature only grew as an adult. M’s enthusiasm rubbed off on C. He remembers going along with her years ago to a presentation by Doug Ladd, the now-retired conservation director for TNC in Missouri. C says he was pulled in because the discussions were fascinating and the solutions Ladd described seemed smart.
“I’m attracted to smart,” C says.
As C and M learned more, they became convinced the best way to help was to focus their philanthropy on one or two big strategies, rather than spread it among numerous projects and organizations. They started with turtles because, well, they liked turtles. They had taken their family on vacation to Florida when their kids were young, and they remember vividly their wonder at seeing loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs. They ultimately decided to support a project in the Solomon Islands where The Nature Conservancy was working with local communities to protect the largest hawksbill sea turtle rookery in the South Pacific.
Another interest followed a similar path. On a trip to Kenya, a Masai guide had introduced C and M to people in his village. The couple felt an instant connection and returned home looking for ways to help people in the region. They eventually settled on a TNC project that safeguarded a vital water source in Nairobi, improving the lives of the women who went each day to collect the water.
Aside from being of personal interest, the projects and TNC fit within other criteria the couple had set for their giving.
“We’re looking for, ‘Here’s a good idea that’s underfunded, and we can execute it,’” C says.
Finding those really good ideas can be a difficult task, the couple says. In the beginning, they started by trying to answer two simple questions when considering whether to donate to an organization: “Is what they do good, and do they need the money?”
The questions gave them a basic framework for their research. The answers helped them get started with TNC, and the years-long relationship has evolved from there. C and M say the relationship is important. They look for organizations that prize those connections, not just the money. They recommend getting involved—talk to the people doing the work, see what’s happening in person if possible. Starting with that first presentation by Doug Ladd, they began attending TNC events and lectures because they found them interesting. They’ve learned about tallgrass prairies and biodiversity, the lives of caterpillars and, of course, turtles. M says learning about nature—and its vulnerabilities—draws people in and moves them to action.
“You think that if more people knew stuff like that, they’d care more,” she says.
When C and M sat down this year to make their annual plan for their philanthropy, they did something different. Both of the main projects they had been funding were doing well enough for others to take over, and they decided to ask their contact at TNC in Missouri where the money would make the biggest difference. It’s not something they would have done without that years-long relationship, and they still planned to do their homework on the proposal. But they stress that building trust like that is critical.
“We’re at the point with TNC that we’re impressed with everything we’ve seen,” C says.
The suggestion of funding a matching gift for the Healthy Cities strategy in Missouri appealed to them. The strategy’s potential to not only achieve conservation goals but to do so in ways that helped St. Louis’ historically disenfranchised populations fit their growing interests in social justice. And the matching component seemed like a smart way to leverage their gift to support more work and encourage others to develop their own relationships with TNC. Already, it’s doing just that.
The first gift as part of the matching program came from a couple who find themselves in the same place C and M were years ago: They’re figuring out the best ways to help and to focus their giving to create the largest impact. They, too, are looking for those smart ideas in need of funding.
When C and M heard about the couple, they seemed encouraged. It is easy to look at a world beset by problems of climate change and widespread injustice and feel overwhelmed, but they have learned through experience how careful, targeted support can make real, measurable change. It is an antidote to feeling helpless. That’s why they continue to give and to work with TNC toward a future that will carry on beyond their own lives.
“It’s a place where there’s a sense of really moving past the sense of being overwhelmed,” C says.
“Hope,” M says. “It’s hope.”
Help Support Missouri's Healthy Cities Work
If you’re interested in learning more about any of the projects on this page or how you can support our work in St. Louis, contact Kelly Hall at email@example.com or call 314-968-1105 for more information.