Meet St. Louis: Bike your New Home Town

For most first year students, entering WashU is an adventure. Not only they are jumping from high school to one of the biggest institution in the nation, but they are also leaving home to move in a new and unknown city. With almost three million inhabitants and hundreds of neighborhoods, the St Louis metropolitan area has a lot to offer. But where would you start?

To introduce new students to the City, the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement offers first year students the opportunity to explore parts of their new home town. Meet St. Louis is a three year-old program that offers more than a dozen theme-oriented excursions to various neighborhoods and features different aspects of the city.

Jennie Greenstein, Meet St. Louis coordinator, explains that “by choosing from a set of excursions, led by a combination of student leaders, staff, and faculty, first year students are introduced to the culture of civic engagement at WashU as well as to the St. Louis community. St. Louis is an incredible city and Meet St. Louis is a great jumping off point for first-years.”

“Biking through Local Food Movements”

One of this year’s excursions, organized in partnership with the Office of Sustainability, consisted of exploring the local food landmarks by bike. Leaving from the South40, the group of 16 rode through the historic neighborhoods of Demun, Dogtown and the Hill, appreciating the diversity of architectural styles and eating options. They beat the car traffic and made it in time for the Tower Grove farmers market, where they had the opportunity to wander around the rows of fresh produce and artisan goods.

As it was explained by Chris, the market manager, Tower Grove farmers market was created eleven years ago and has kept growing ever since. Several thousands of shoppers visit this regional attraction every week to purchase fresh food provided by a broad selection of local farmers, producers and vendors.

After the trek, the students hopped back on their bikes with strong appetites to have lunch at Seed Sprout Spoon, a recently-opened restaurant on Morganford Road. Rated 5 stars by the Green Dining Alliance, this local venue has extremely high standards for sourcing their food; most of which actually comes from the farmers that you can meet at the market! And to make it even greener, the student’s appetite didn’t allow for any food waste.

On the way back to the university, Meet St. Louis stopped by City Greens, a market born in 2008 from the idea to make access to healthy food more accessible to low-income people. At that time, The Grove didn’t have any grocery stores and the transportation options to commute outside of the neighborhood were limited. Through telling their story, The City Greens owners introduced the students to the concept of food deserts and taught them about a unique initiative to address social inequity with food access.

From produce sourcing at the farmers market, to preparation and cooking in the Seed Sprout Spoon kitchen, and to the grocery store City Greens, this excursion has been a complete experience of a local food system!

Zach, a freshman in Art and Sciences coming from Florida, shared his experience of Meet St. Louis: “I learned how locals are reinventing food production and consumption culture right in our backyard as well as the challenges that come with doing so. I feel that I gained a good understanding of how the sustainable food movement operates and what I can do to help”.

“Bike in Soulard, walk away inspired”

Meet St. Louis was also the opportunity for the WashU Police Department to share its knowledge and skills about safe biking. WashU’s Corporal Ed Bartelme, Police Cyclist and instructor certified by the International Police Mountain Bike Association, has become an expert at riding in the most dangerous situations, under any kind of conditions. He led the excursion with the help of two other WashU patrol officers.

After receiving a brief presentation about Missouri bike laws, the nine first-year students took off towards Forest Park, where they were taught how to ride safely, both on streets and on pathways. With the guidance of the officers, they simulated emergency situations and learned how to behave in a high traffic zones, whether they would be surrounded by cars or pedestrians.

According to Sergeant Bob, co-leader of the excursion, even though most of them were experienced bikers, the students were challenged to confidently practice slow speed maneuvers, bike dismounting while riding and biking on steep terrain.

This excursion was also the opportunity for students to discover BWorks, a local non-profit that, through their “Own a Bike” program, gives kids the chance to earn a free bike while they learn about bicycle safety and maintenance. Students also toured the bike shop, which sells dozens of refurbished bicycles, used bike parts and gears.

At the end of the day, the group of riders took the MetroLink back to campus, experiencing a full multimodal transit. Getting on a train with twelve bikes at a time was a challenge but it got a lot of attention from the passengers and it was fun!

To keep exploring St. Louis neighborhoods…

The Office of Sustainability and the Gephardt Institute are proud to announce the release of the Neighborhood Guides, edition 2017! With several bike-able and transit-accessible neighborhoods presented in each of the three guides, you’ll be all set to discover the newest and the greenest local businesses and restaurants! To obtain a set of neighborhood guides, please stop by the Office of Sustainability (South40, ground floor of Myers building) or the Gephardt Institute (suite 150 of the DUC).