How Green House Venture is looking to grow the next generation of plant scientists

On a 3.7-acre highway embankment located just a few feet south of Interstate 44 in the Shaw neighborhood, Green House Venture has built a talent pipeline.

The nonprofit, which was formed more than seven years ago by civic leader Tom Purcell and local educator Don Stump, works to give elementary school students hands-on learning opportunities that introduce them to the biosciences. On the embankment, kids interact with native plants, study pollinators, and learn the basics of urban agriculture.

For Purcell, president of Green House Venture’s board of directors, the organization’s mission is twofold. Not only can GHV help kids learn the basics of creating a sustainable urban food supply, it can drive them toward career pathways in some of St. Louis’ most distinctive fields.

“Our goal is to excite elementary students so that they become interested in science, biotech, and other initiatives and create a pipeline of future plant scientists to sustain the region’s biotech industry,” Purcell says.

Students in the program come from three nearby schools—Mullanphy Investigative Center, St. Margaret of Scotland, and Tower Grove Christian Academy—where teachers partner with scientists from Saint Louis University to organize projects that allow kids to run experiments and explore topics such as plant and soil chemistry, ecology, and more.

In the coming years, Purcell hopes that a planned $4.7 million Green House Venture Education Center built across the street from the embankment at the intersection of Lawrence and De Tonty will allow students to dive even deeper into the biosciences. The building will feature advanced technology for experimentation, greenhouse spaces, solar arrays, vertical growing spaces, and more. Purcell says the organization is still in need of approximately $3 million to make the Education Center a reality. 

“When we build that, it will be easier to work with a larger market scale,” Purcell says.

For Purcell, reaching more students is the key to sustaining homegrown talent in the agtech, plant-science, and bioscience industries.

“St. Louis is becoming more of a science-driven area,” he says. “That means you should want to start early in the elementary system and create a faster start for those future scientists. That can also make it more interesting for them to stay in St. Louis. We want to show them the science industries and what they do.”

Just like a scientist isnt created overnight, the agtech and plant science industries in St. Louis need to be cultivated over the long run. Green House Venture hopes that its approach to sparking an interest in all things plant science will benefit the children of St. Louis, as well as the metro area, for decades to come.

“It’s a framework that allows us to strengthen the economic and business character of the St. Louis region,” Purcell says.

May 4, 2024

4:09 PM

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