Nonprofit Spotlight: Preston Community Gardens

When Ronnie Preston passed away in 2019, he left a parcel of land in East St. Louis to his daughter, Patrice Preston Rogers. Rogers knew she wanted to use the land to support the community her father had loved. “My father was a lifelong proud East St. Louis resident, but he suffered from hypertension, high cholesterol and other dietary issues common among people who live in food deserts.” Food deserts are neighborhoods where residents lack access to affordable, nutritious foods, and East St. Louis is among the many in the urban St. Louis region. Rogers decided to transform her inheritance into Preston Community Garden, a community garden that could help provide fresh produce for residents, especially those undergoing financial hardships.

Rogers admits that she didn’t do this alone. “We are grateful for all the support we receive from local groups of volunteers like the Boy Scouts, Operation Food Search, the Kappa League, and many more.” Another East St. Louis nonprofit, R3, has been helpful, too. R3 teaches kids construction skills, and the group has built many of the garden’s projects Rogers and her team envisioned.

Man in hat pushes wheelbarrow with help of a young child also wearing a hat.

There are many corporate groups that support the garden through donations or through volunteer efforts, too. One of the earliest supporters of the garden was Home Depot. “They really believed in our project and helped us get started with a grant for supplies. Their employees helped us build a fence around the garden.” She’s quick to point out that the fence is merely a border boundary and isn’t intended to keep people out of the garden. “This garden belongs to the community, and we want them to have access to it when they need time to just be in a beautiful green space filled with living things.”

The Preston Community Garden isn’t just a vegetable garden. “We have a flowerbed outside, a blessing box, a children’s garden with different colored boxes, a pavilion, and picnic tables.”  They’ve recently started encouraging community members to paint pavers for a pathway. Rogers says, “It’s become a beautiful and meaningful part of the space. One young lady who recently lost her sister painted a paver dedicated to her memory. People paint scriptures or just whatever is in their heart.”

In addition to its beauty and usefulness as a place to grow nutritional foods that are donated to area residents in need, Preston Community Garden functions as an outdoor classroom. “It’s a form of environmental science that teaches kids responsibility, patience, and a life-skill. Plus, we like that it gets them off their devices and outside doing something positive.”

A young girl wearing a tiara holds a potato she's pulled from the ground.

Rogers believes there are more places that can benefit from a community garden space. “Even though we have accomplished a lot in the last few years, I’m a dreamer and an optimist by nature. I still want to add more beauty and do more building. We recently obtained the land directly across the street from the garden and have plans to expand the garden to that space, but it will take a lot of work.” Preston Community Gardens even offers classes and workshops to help young people and adults learn more about gardening.

This doesn’t happen without a lot of support from donors and volunteers. “We usually have a good turnout of volunteers for our events, but gardens need daily care. The leadership team is hoping to secure funding to pay a regular gardener.” One of the ways the garden gets financial support and exposure is through participation in the St. Louis Community Foundation’s Give STL Day. “Give STL Day is a great event that gets us involved with a group of like-minded people who care about humanity and community.”

People work together to prepare dirt in a garden bed for planting. A man driving a tractor is in the background.

Rogers is passionate about the Preston Community Gardens, which transformed more than just one lot in East St. Louis. It’s transformed the community, and it’s a beautiful way for Rogers to honor her father with a growing legacy.