City Greens Market – Locavore Wonderland in the Church Basement
by Jess Watson
Shhh. Did you know that there’s a secret club for locavores with a social justice bent? City Greens is a community market in The Grove stocking all local, chemical-free produce, bread, dairy, eggs and meat. Members have access to high quality, local foods sold at wholesale prices. Memberships are free for low-income families, so membership fees help supply healthy food to families who live in food deserts – areas with low access to supermarkets or fresh fruits and vegetables.
City Greens Coordinator Michelle Erhard explains, “We’re trying to get people the highest quality food and the healthiest food. It’s not only extending that to our bodies but the earth. It’s not the healthiest to have chemicals sprayed on our food and have to process them in our bodies. People should have the option to say, no I don’t want to have that in my body. We wanted to bring that into the neighborhood and let people make the decision themselves.”
Four years after its founding as part of Catholic Charities Midtown Center, City Greens is expanding rapidly. They’ve recently hired their first full-time staff member and they are extending their hours to be open four days a week. They also have a Mobile Market built into the back of a delivery truck, which supplies food to other neighborhoods in the city of St. Louis twice a week. City Greens is in the midst of a capital campaign to move out of their current location in the basement of Catholic Charities and into a storefront on Manchester in Forest Park Southeast. They’ve raised $48,000 of their $60,000 goal so far, helped by a matching grant from the Brown Sisters Foundation.
Local resident Annie Fitzgerald finds the City Greens mission “exciting” and estimates that she buys about 50% of her weekly groceries for her four-person household at the market. “We’re very interested in being very social justice oriented and we love supporting local food.”
She also finds the shopping experience much more rewarding, describing a conversation she had with the woman next to her in line. “She said, ‘What kind of mushrooms are those?’ I said, ‘They’re portabellas.’ And she said, ‘I’ve never seen those before. How do you cook them?’ And we just had this conversation about something new. She started telling me about collard greens because I didn’t know how to cook them. So we learned from each other just by standing in line. That doesn’t happen at Schnucks, or even at a farmer’s market. There’s a lot more community feel.”
City Greens also offers cooking classes and nutrition education to local residents. Latricia Finley, a volunteer at City Greens, described how she has changed her family’s eating habits after attending the classes.
“At first I was just buying just one particular type of fruit or vegetable that I like, but here it’s seasonal, so it’s something different all the time. Not only that, but they have information, to where you can have a recipe and you can try it out. They do demonstrations sometimes and it’ll be a recipe of one of the vegetables that they have here so it gives you that oomph to say, ‘You know, I’m a try it.’”
Even her picky teen has learned to appreciate new flavors. “My 15 yr old, he so don’t really care for vegetables. I was in the Healthy Chef class and we made a winter squash pizza. I took it home and he was like, ‘This is good!’ And I was like, ‘You know what’s on there? It’s squash.’ He said, ‘I told you I don’t like squash!’ ‘Well, you just ate it.’ And he said, ‘Well, that was good.’ It’s just a way to incorporate things into what they like to eat, adding to it but it still don’t take away from it tasting good,” she said.
Although it still feels like the best-kept secret in town, it’s fair to say the secret is out. City Greens plans to expand beyond last year’s peak of 430 members and still has openings available. You can join, volunteer or donate to their “Move City Greens” campaign at their website or Gofundme.com/25ja9s.
The Slow Spotlight is a series of regular blog posts exploring the story of our food. The series reports on local farms, “slow” food products/businesses, and the preservation (or creation) of food traditions with occasional coverage of relevant organizations, issues, and events.