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Food, Community and the Rebirth of Old North St. Louis

July 19, 2011
By: Guest Editor, Farm Journal

The following story was written by a University of Missouri student as part of the 2010 Sonja Hillgren/Farm Journal Ag Journalism Field Reporting Institute. Learn more.


By Connor Elfrink

A box of organic "Annie’s Homegrown" cereal sits next to a box of off-brand "Frosted Mini-Spooners." Nearby rests a wood crate filled with moist heads of green lettuce and canned vegetables.

The coexistence of a $6 dollar organic cereal and a $2 common brand on the same shelf is important to the diverse neighbors who live around the Old North Grocery co-op. When members of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group designed the store, they wanted healthy options available for all the neighborhood residents, rich or poor.

The co-op opened in July 2010 and provides fresh, affordable and local products to a neighborhood three miles from the nearest grocer. This "food desert" is in the midst of restorations that have begun to leverage a dilapidated region into an area of booming bohemian growth.

Kara Lubischer, a community development specialist with University of Missouri Extension, said Old North St. Louis is different from other urban neighborhoods affected by "white flight." The people in the neighborhood are active in volunteering and represent a rare harmonious microcosm of diverse income and race.

"I have never seen a neighborhood like this," Lubischer said.

Sean Thomas, executive director of the Old North St. Restoration Group, said that even from its earliest days, Old North was trying to be different, and in doing so, became a benchmark for other areas.

Old North started in 1816 as its own village. It merged with St. Louis in 1841, setting a precedent for similar neighborhoods.

In the 1970s, pedestrian walkways were installed, leaving 14th Street with no through traffic and few customers. But business declined.

But not all businesses left. Crown Candy and Max Hardware have been in the neighborhood since the early 1900s. The family-owned stores stayed because it is home, Thomas said.

According to the book, "From Village to Neighborhood: A History of Old North St. Louis," several churches, along with about 15 families, moved to the neighborhood in the late 1970s. A few of the churches still operate.

The restoration group hopes that once restaurants and other new businesses become established, congregation members will have a reason to stay after church.

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