By SHERI GASSAWAY
Using chainsaws, backhoes and shovels, union members and contractors are helping turn a vacant lot in Ferguson into a community garden to benefit nearby families with healthy food options.
The land, owned by Greater St. Mark Family Church, is on a residential street at 10069 Bon Oak Dr. But the lot was in no condition for a garden. The ground was uneven and overgrown with trees and there was no running water on site.
Fortunately, Steve Hollis, a member of the church and AFGE Local 3354 president emeritus, knew just who to call for help: Laborers’ Local 110 Business Manager Don Willey.
Once the leaves fell, Willey and a group of Local 110 volunteers spent a bone-chilling, windy day cleaning up the lot by removing trees and shrubs and cutting up wood.
HELPING PEOPLE IN NEED
“We try to do as much community outreach as we can, and this project will put locally sourced, healthy food on the table for people in need,” Willey said. “Once, the garden is up and running, it will be a great opportunity for the neighborhood.”
Justin Claywell, a Local 110 member for nearly 20 years who’s now an instructor for the Laborers-AGC Training Center, was one of the volunteers who helped clear the lot.
‘THE RIGHT THING TO DO’
“I’ve always had a green thumb, and I have a farm in Bonne Terre,” Claywell said. “So, for me, coming out here to help with the garden was the right thing to do, and the healthy food it will yield will greatly benefit people in the community.”
Merlo Plumbing, a Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 contractor, and Kelpe Contracting, which employs members of Laborers Local 110 and Operating Engineers Local 513, are providing equipment and manpower for the project.
HOW THE IDEA CAME ABOUT
Hollis said his wife, the Rev. Audrey Hollis, an associate pastor at the church and one of the original founders of Missouri Jobs with Justice, came up with the idea while she was doing outreach in the community on behalf of the church.
She said the most common request from families was that they wanted access to good, healthy food that was in walking distance from their homes. Rev. Hollis said many families in the area don’t have transportation, so they are forced to walk to nearby convenience stores where they buy junk food.
UNION MEMBERS’ HELP ‘A GREAT BLESSING’
“With this garden, we will be teaching local families how to grow, giving them a fun place to gather and providing the community with access to healthy, locally produced food,” Rev. Hollis said. “The union members who are helping us with this have been a great blessing, and they will see what a joyous project it is when it’s complete.”
Steve Hollis said Greater St. Mark Family Church started a community garden at Riverview Gardens High School some years ago, Steve Hollis said, providing food to family members who tend the garden and selling the rest at the United People Market at the church.
The church also buys food from local farmers and sells it at the market for little or no markup to keep prices affordable. Food from the new Ferguson community garden will also be sold at the market.
The market is open form 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and from noon to 3 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, visit its Facebook page.