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Body N Soil Urban Farm Cultivates Food, Self-Care In St. Louis

Ashley Bailey of St. Louis always wanted to have a garden. However, she didn’t necessarily set out to become a burgeoning community gardener and leader in her neighborhood. No, Bailey just often thought it would be nice to have a “peaceful space,” particularly at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

That’s not to say that Bailey hasn’t always served her community. The proprietor and owner of Body N Soil Urban Farm has long been giving back as an educator.

Photo Courtesy Body N Soil

“Well, I am actually a teacher,” she explains to Garden & Health. “I teach art at our public school in St. Louis, one of the public schools. And I’ve always wanted to have a community garden. But it wasn’t until COVID happened where I started to experience like anxiety and a kind of depression.”

As a means of therapy and fulfilling a yearslong dream, Bailey got to work, first with a container garden on her balcony. She soon realized she wanted to share this form of self-care and learning with others.

Photo Courtesy Body N Soil

“I realized that [the container garden] really helped me with my anxiety and depression. So then I decided that I would like to provide that for other people,” she said.

“So, I went ahead and tried to get some land. We basically went to the city, and we rented a plot of land, and we turned it from a vacant lot (into) a beautiful garden!”

Her natural inclination to teach and help others led Bailey from her small garden to seek out others in her community who might be dealing with some of the same struggles. A proposed meeting in the community to gauge interest in transforming the vacant lot led to a small turnout — “Only one other person showed up!” — but that wouldn’t deter someone like Bailey.

Photo Courtesy Body N Soil

With this “other” new friend, Charmein Shelton, and Bailey’s sister, Chrystal Gates, Body N Soil Urban Farm was born in 2021.

“It’s us three who are basically kind of like the creators and the founders. We didn’t know a lot about growing,” Bailey said. “So, we tilled the land, and then we learned later that we didn’t want to till the land because we want to do healthier practices.”

“Keeping the land as it is and building on the land,” she continued. “Basically, we got together, and this is our third growing season.”

In addition to being a place to grow and give back to the land and produce fresh produce in a part of St. Louis, which is considered a food desert for fresh and healthy foods, the founders of Body N Soil wanted to provide a space for mental well-being.

Photo Courtesy Body N Soil

“We started having some events in the garden. So some of our events are … We have movie nights for the youth. We have a big screen that we put up. And then we also have swimming pools and blankets and stuff and make it nice and cozy!” Bailey added, laughing. “We also have had a poetry slam. And that was very, very — it was very exciting. It was good. Some of my students came out to participate in the poetry slam.”

“Also, we’ve had some workshops,” she continued. “Next week, we’re doing a container garden workshop, where it’s free to the public. They come, and they learn how to start their own container garden!”

Photo Courtesy Body N Soil

After spending only a few minutes chatting with Bailey, one gets the sense that even with the many things she and Body N Soil are doing, it’s only the beginning. The future of community gardening and mental wellness through nature will be thriving in St. Louis for years to come.

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