UMSL Community Garden donates summer produce to Operation Pathways

by | Aug 21, 2020

Several pounds of fruits and vegetables went to the organization’s cooking and nutrition programs at the St. Luke’s Plaza Apartments.
UMSL Community Garden

Aurora Blanchard, UMSL Community Garden supervisor and outreach coordinator, visits the garden for a couple hours once or twice a week to maintain a variety of fruits and vegetables. Harvests from this summer have gone to Operation Pathways for use in the organization’s cooking and nutrition programs. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When students left the University of Missouri–St. Louis campus this spring, the UMSL Community Garden was left to its own devices.

It became less a garden and more a jungle.

At least, that’s how Aurora Blanchard, the UMSL Community Garden supervisor and outreach coordinator, described it when she returned to the plot near the South Campus Garage in June. It wasn’t a bad thing, though.

“We donated anything available to harvest in June to Operation Pathways, and that served the St. Luke’s Plaza Apartments,” she said. “That was what grew during quarantine without any human intervention.”

Operation Pathways is national organization that offers a variety programs to empower and support residents of affordable housing communities. The programming is based on three “pathways” to address common obstacles faced by low-income families: academic achievement, financial stability and health and wellness.

Blanchard is working with Carla Reid, Operation Pathways resident services coordinator and UMSL social work alumna, to continue providing produce for the organization’s cooking and nutrition programs at St. Luke’s.

The largest donations – like the harvest from June – go to Operation Pathways because it serves more than 200 residents, but there are plans to make smaller donations to the Metro Trans Umbrella Group. The donations also include instructions on how to use the produce.

“For the last donation, we had some radishes that bloomed,” Blanchard said. “They’re a lot starchier, so I included a recipe for braised radishes. I included that recipe last time, and next donation I plan on doing a cooking video. I’m going to do something that combines everything from the harvest and then post it on Youtube. The residents will be able to look at it and also look at the recipe card that I attach to see exactly what to do.”

While the June harvest was the result of a hands-off approach, Blanchard plans to be more intentional about the garden going forward.

“I’ve been going there by myself for a couple hours once or twice a week in the morning before it gets really hot,” she said.

She’s excited to raise some more unique fruits and vegetables including lemon cucumbers, which are rounder than other varieties and have a distinct citrus taste, and golden dewlicious melons, which are similar to honeydew melons but much sweeter.

Normally, groups of gardeners made up of alumni, community members, faculty, staff and students help take care of the garden beds. But that might change due to COVID-19 safety concerns. Blanchard is still figuring out how the garden will operate this semester. For now, she’s doing what she can to prepare the next crop.

“For the fall, I want to go back to peas and radishes, things that produce really quickly,” she said.

Burk Krohe

Burk Krohe