Urban farmer is growing health, hope in north St. Louis

Urban farmer is growing health, hope in north St. Louis

KINGSWAY WEST – For many residents of north St. Louis, getting access to organic fruits and vegetables is a task that has become increasingly difficult. 

This is especially true in the Kingsway West neighborhood, where at least 33 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to a recent report published by Washington University. 

To combat the lack, Tyrean Lewis, 37, a native of Normandy and now a resident of north St. Louis, launched Heru’s Urban Farming and Growing in March 2018.

Lewis was inspired to name the garden after his African moniker, Heru Adeleke, which means “king” or “liberator.”

“It’s [not] a community garden, but the community is welcome,” Lewis said in an interview with MetroSTL.com.

Lewis recalls that after making a trip to an area supermarket, he noticed that something wasn’t quite right in the produce section.

“I’m like, ‘These are [slim] pickings, it doesn’t look as beautiful and fresh,’” Lewis said.

So he decided to take a field trip to a different supermarket in the area to compare fruits and vegetables. Lewis said that the produce at the second market was in a better condition than the last store he had left, but it still didn’t quite meet his expectations.

After taking a trip to a grocery in west St. Louis County, Lewis said, that’s when he noticed “a real big difference.” The fruits and vegetables that made up the produce section in a grocery store situated in a different neighborhood seemed to be in a much better condition, looking fresh and healthier.

“You know what? I’m growing my own stuff,” Lewis remembered saying to himself.

While sitting on his front porch, Lewis came up with the idea to create a garden of his own.

Nicknamed “Greenthumb” by neighbors, Lewis said, “I’ve always been a health nut.” 

His background as both a physical education and health teacher along with a Master’s degree in management and a constant quest for knowledge gave him even more reasons to begin growing.

Heru’s Urban Farming and Growing, at 5257 Maffit Ave., has become the light in a dark place.

With about 10,000 square feet of space to work with, Lewis, a father of three, is supplying his neighbors with more than just organic fruits and vegetables. He is also supplying them with hope.

Collard greens, cabbage, carrots, kale, beets, okra, zucchini, cucumbers, black-eyed peas, cantaloupe, corn, green beans, eggplant, cayenne peppers, jalapeños, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, sunflower seeds, watermelon and so much more have been planted in Lewis’ garden.

He said that once neighbors caught wind of what he was doing, more and more people showed up asking to purchase some of the food he had grown. 

“So I turned it into a nonprofit,” Lewis said.

“I give 30 percent of it away to the single parents and elderly in a three-street radius; Maffit, Terry [Avenue] and St. Louis Avenue, and then a few people on Northland [Avenue] too … then I sell the rest of it,” he said.

Lewis said he sold the remaining 70 percent of his crop for profit. Everything that he grows is non-GMO and organic.

Walking through his garden in a farmer’s hat and a black Nike T-shirt, Lewis’ passion for farming is clearly evident. He is able to point out exactly what fruit or vegetable had grown in which space in the garden, and he is willing to answer any question you could possibly think of including how the plant actually grows, how to care for the plant while it’s growing and when you could expect it to be ready for harvest.

“I was growing stuff in buckets in the backyard, but some of this stuff is my first time growing,” Lewis said. “I first started this last year. This is the second year, and I added more stuff this year.”

“I’m going to add more stuff next year,” he added.

Although Lewis hasn’t owned the garden in north city for long, he already has plans to open a second location along 19th Street in the College Hill neighborhood.

He said he planned to use that location to grow food “solely to give away.”

With both locations combined, Lewis will have access to at least half an acre of land.

“I’m going to have access to a couple of acres in the county next year,” he said. “So I’m going to do an acre of just watermelon and an acre of something else.”

“I’m going to keep this open for teaching purposes,” he mentioned, referring to the site in the Kingsway West neighborhood.

It’s his teaching that has been opening doors. Lewis was awarded a $1,000 grant from the BALSA Foundation in the spring, geared towards first-time entrepreneurs. Because he was a finalist in that competition, Lewis will have the chance to earn more grant money with the foundation.

He was also awarded $5,600 from the St. Louis Philanthropic Organization in July.

Lewis will speak at a panel made up of local farmers here in St. Louis on October 22, presented by Washington University as part of St. Louis Food Week.

The panel discussion is an extension of a program launched by the university called Known & Grown STL, which supports and promotes the work of food producers and retailers across the region.

Lewis said the work he had been doing in his garden was creating opportunities he never even dreamed of before he started growing.

“It went beyond my expectations,” Lewis stated. “It’s overwhelming to me, but it’s cool, though.”

He is already planning to expand his business further, and he hopes to have the second location on 19th Street up and running by next year.

Lewis credits his spiritual practices, such as meditation and Reiki, as the reasons why his garden thrives and produces such tasty, organic products. 

To learn more about Lewis and his garden, visit knownandgrownstl.org/farm/heruurbanfarmingandgarden/, or on Facebook at Heru Urban Farming. You can also follow him on Instagram @heruurbanfarming.

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