Meet the founders of Perennial City Composting

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Visitation Park Neighborhood Tim Kiefer The Food Pedaler Perennial City Composting Land Reutilization Authority City of St. Louis Beth Kiefer

Describing Beth Grollmes-Kiefer and Tim Kiefer as “two peas in a pod” or “two birds of a feather” may seem a bit old-fashioned for the young founders of Perennial City Composting, above, but after visiting with them last summer and seeing their operation in action, the expressions seem to fit “like a glove.”  Their mission, to help save the planet by keeping food waste out of the landfill, has captured the attention of over 200 customers throughout St. Louis City and mid-County, who subscribe to their weekly or bi-weekly pick-up service.

The Kiefers met 5 years ago when Tim, who also founded The Food Pedaler, took a delivery from The Cup to a SLU dorm where Beth, who was earning her Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics at the time, was manning the reception desk. Not surprisingly, Tim hung around afterwards and remembers that their first conversation was about urban farming, imagine that! (My guess is that after that first meeting Kiefer hoped for many future cupcake deliveries to that particular dorm.)

The last 1 3/4 years have been a whirlwind for the Kiefers. They married on April Fool’s Day 2017, bought a house in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood, where they started composting in the backyard—and brooding chickens in the basement. In November 2017, the couple purchased 2 acres of land from the LRA (Land Reutilization Authority) in the Visitation Park neighborhood just north of Delmar, where they planned to open a soil farm.

Last January, they built the Perennial City Composting website incorporating Brooklyn-based illustrator Haejin Park’s food-scrap art (yes, there is such a niche) into the design. By April, Tim and his dad had cleared the honeysuckle off the property and the Kiefers moved the composting operation— and a few chickens—from their backyard to Visitation Park, not far from the heart of the CWE.

The Kiefers are photographed above alongside decorative panels they’ve installed at the entry to Perennial City Composting, which were salvaged from their Skinker-DeBalviere neighbor, artist Bill Christman. In a remarkable example of the small world nature of St. Louis, Christman grew up in an apartment building that was located on Perennial City’s property.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Visitation Park Neighborhood Tim Kiefer The Food Pedaler Perennial City Composting Land Reutilization Authority City of St. Louis Beth Kiefer

When I visited early one morning, Beth and Tim were hurriedly moving portable fencing to a fresh plot of grass—which they do every 2 weeks so the chickens will have fresh pickings to feed on. The Kiefers, neither of whom has a farming background, incorporated chickens into their compost operation after learning the important role chickens play during their many conversations with the proprietor of The Vermont Compost Company.

Bottom photo: Tim built the pitched-roof chicken coop on wheels so it can easily be moved around the property.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Visitation Park Neighborhood Tim Kiefer The Food Pedaler Perennial City Composting Land Reutilization Authority City of St. Louis Beth Kiefer

Moving the portable fence took longer than the chickens appreciated that morning, so by the time the door to the coop was opened, there was a mad dash out the door.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Visitation Park Neighborhood Tim Kiefer The Food Pedaler Perennial City Composting Land Reutilization Authority City of St. Louis Beth Kiefer

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Visitation Park Neighborhood Tim Kiefer The Food Pedaler Perennial City Composting Land Reutilization Authority City of St. Louis Beth Kiefer

Left: A few stragglers stayed behind while Beth checked for eggs. Right photo: The chickens’ diet is supplemented with a non-gmo Amish grain feed containing oyster shells and kelp for calcium, which is purchased from a Mennonite feed mill in Arthur, IL.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Visitation Park Neighborhood Tim Kiefer The Food Pedaler Perennial City Composting Land Reutilization Authority City of St. Louis Beth Kiefer

“This is where your compost goes,” Tim said, as he gestured to food scraps gathered from 60 households. The chickens pick through the compost, and fertilize it with their droppings. Grapes and tomatoes are prized finds. Interestingly, meat and fish scraps, which are apparently good for the chickens and for the compost too, are okay to place into the Perennial City Composting bin.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Visitation Park Neighborhood Tim Kiefer The Food Pedaler Perennial City Composting Land Reutilization Authority City of St. Louis Beth Kiefer   “This is how chickens should be living,” Kiefer said, as I watched the hens pick through the compost or search the grass for bugs. Right: He outfitted the wagon with old composting buckets that are used for drinking water.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Visitation Park Neighborhood Tim Kiefer The Food Pedaler Perennial City Composting Land Reutilization Authority City of St. Louis Beth Kiefer

The Kiefers keep multiple varieties of Heritage Breed hens, including Rhode Island Reds, Black Australorp, Barred Plymouth Rocks, as well as Easter Eggers, which are bred for personality and blue eggs. Apparently, chickens are very social and highly intelligent too. Not surprisingly, there is even a hierarchy in chicken world, which is evident when they instinctively return to the pitched-roof coop at dusk. The strongest, most important hens perch at the top.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Visitation Park Neighborhood Tim Kiefer The Food Pedaler Perennial City Composting Land Reutilization Authority City of St. Louis Beth Kiefer

Along with their composting service, the Kiefers have started an innovative Flockshare program as part of their goal to create a closed-loop food system. Subscribers can purchase a hen (don’t worry, they keep it, unless you want it), and for a monthly fee, receive 2 dozen really delicious eggs.

Those who are familiar with Bill Christman’s art will recognize his hand in the old-fashioned design of the egg cartons.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Visitation Park Neighborhood Tim Kiefer The Food Pedaler Perennial City Composting Land Reutilization Authority City of St. Louis Beth Kiefer

Future plans for the second acre of land the Kiefers purchased (located directly across the street from the composting operation) are still in the works. Currently, the property contains piles of wood chips that are mixed into the compost. The hope is that someday this property will be an urban “eco-Forest Garden,” which would draw people interested in agra-tourism, a hot commodity right now. There are also plans to start a vegetable garden this Spring to put all that good compost to use.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Visitation Park Neighborhood Tim Kiefer The Food Pedaler Perennial City Composting Land Reutilization Authority City of St. Louis Beth Kiefer   We have been Perennial City subscribers since September and are amazed at how painless it is and, more importantly, how little we throw into the trash. I keep meat and fish scraps in the freezer until our bin is picked up each week, but that is probably not necessary as there is no odor coming from the bin because of the little bag of coffee chaff and compost provided  to sprinkle between layers of food waste. To remind us to leave the bin outside Beth sends a text that reads: “Thanks for keeping the good stuff out of the landfill.”

Thanks to the Kiefers for letting me share their story, and for all they are doing they to help the environment in this little corner of the world. When I apologized to the Kiefers for the length of time it has taken me to complete this post, Tim replied, “That means it will be good, right?” I certainly hope so.

For more information, visit the Perennial City Composting website, or email, hello@perennial.city

Snapshots from last Saturday’s Holiday on the Plaza & Window Walk

Though there were copious clouds and even a brief shower last Saturday afternoon, the 60 degree weather contributed to jam-packed sidewalks filled with young families out to participate in the annual Holiday on the Plaza and CWE Window Walk events. Thanks to months of planning by Maryland Plaza’s Frances Thompson and the CWE North Community Improvement District’s Kate Haher and Erica Lembo there were activities galore for all to enjoy.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Food and Drink  Ted Koplar Maryland Plaza Kate Haher Holiday on the Plaza Frances Thompson CWE Window Walk CWE North Community Improvement District Central West End Association

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Food and Drink  Ted Koplar Maryland Plaza Kate Haher Holiday on the Plaza Frances Thompson CWE Window Walk CWE North Community Improvement District Central West End Association

Maryland Plaza’s Nathan Ambus, who’s very much behind-the-scenes and knows how to work all the bells and whistles (and turn on the Xmas tree lights on cue), with Ted Koplar, the third-generation patriarch of the family that has made Maryland Plaza such a huge success.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Food and Drink  Ted Koplar Maryland Plaza Kate Haher Holiday on the Plaza Frances Thompson CWE Window Walk CWE North Community Improvement District Central West End Association

Top photo left: Kate Walter, president of the Central West End Association, and top right, ‘Scape’s David McDermott volunteered to slow walk the ponies as young riders took a spin on Maryland Plaza.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Food and Drink  Ted Koplar Maryland Plaza Kate Haher Holiday on the Plaza Frances Thompson CWE Window Walk CWE North Community Improvement District Central West End Association

Above left, there was a caricature artist at the corner of Euclid and Maryland, a performance by the CWE’s Bob Kramer’s Marionnettes at Bissinger’s, ice carving demonstrations and family photo ops on Maryland Plaza.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Food and Drink  Ted Koplar Maryland Plaza Kate Haher Holiday on the Plaza Frances Thompson CWE Window Walk CWE North Community Improvement District Central West End Association

Activities included horse and buggy rides along Euclid, a trio of strolling carolers and a lively performance by Saint Boogie Brass Band. Circus Kaput jugglers entertained at the corner of Euclid & Maryland.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Food and Drink  Ted Koplar Maryland Plaza Kate Haher Holiday on the Plaza Frances Thompson CWE Window Walk CWE North Community Improvement District Central West End Association

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Food and Drink  Ted Koplar Maryland Plaza Kate Haher Holiday on the Plaza Frances Thompson CWE Window Walk CWE North Community Improvement District Central West End Association

Inside the Holiday Village Workshop kids could participate in a variety of craft activities led by the Magic House, Home Depot, Barnes Jewish Hospital, and The Cup. Students from Paul Mitchell the School were offering holiday hair styles, and for the adults, much appreciated chair massages from Massage Luxe.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Food and Drink  Ted Koplar Maryland Plaza Kate Haher Holiday on the Plaza Frances Thompson CWE Window Walk CWE North Community Improvement District Central West End Association

Rosati Kain High School’s “R-K Voices” posed for a photo before their performance last Saturday.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Food and Drink  Ted Koplar Maryland Plaza Kate Haher Holiday on the Plaza Frances Thompson CWE Window Walk CWE North Community Improvement District Central West End Association

28th Ward Alderwoman Heather Navarro welcomed the crowd before the tree lighting ceremony.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Food and Drink  Ted Koplar Maryland Plaza Kate Haher Holiday on the Plaza Frances Thompson CWE Window Walk CWE North Community Improvement District Central West End Association

Thanks to 10-year-old Khelby Calmese, a sickle cell disease patient at Children’s Hospital for flipping the switch that magically lit the beautiful Christmas tree.

The Holiday Window Walk continues today December 8 with carolers, free gift wrapping, and a Holiday Market in the heated tent behind ‘Scape. There’s still time to get your list to Santa, as he is on Maryland Plaza again today and will be there Saturday December 15 and 22.

Founders of CWE Farm publish “A Gift Garden”

Nicki's Central West End Guide Books, Dance, Music, Theater Food and Drink For Children Health & Wellness Urban Gardens  Trinity Episcopal Church Second Presbyterian Church Nancy Culbert Gift Garden Fresh Food Foundation First Unitarian Church CWE Farm Central Reform Congregation Arthur Culbert

“It’s best to take the picture while we’re harvesting,” Arthur Culbert said, as he and his wife Nancy were hurriedly picking the last of the summer’s bounty grown at the CWE Farm to benefit neighborhood food pantries. With the first frost in the forecast, there was little time to pose for photos the morning I visited to learn more about the couple’s new book, A Gift Garden. The illustrated book, which the Culberts have been working on for the past 2 years, was inspired by their experience working with all the 4th graders who have participated in the “Citizens Making a Difference” curriculum at New City School.

The book launch is scheduled for this Monday, December 10, at The Mahler Ballroom (more information follows).

Nicki's Central West End Guide Books, Dance, Music, Theater Food and Drink For Children Health & Wellness Urban Gardens  Trinity Episcopal Church Second Presbyterian Church Nancy Culbert Gift Garden Fresh Food Foundation First Unitarian Church CWE Farm Central Reform Congregation Arthur Culbert

Photos above: Arthur Culbert and 4th grade students at New City School.

Arthur started the CWE Farm 8 years ago on a vacant lot in the 5000 block of Waterman (just west of Kingshighway). Over the past 7 growing seasons the farm has produced approximately 16,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables for food pantries at Trinity Episcopal Church and Second Presbyterian Church. Tying the farm’s mission to eliminate hunger in the community to a program for neighborhood school children where they learn where food comes from, how to plant and grow it for those less fortunate to enjoy, was a brilliant idea and what inspired the Culberts to write A Gift Garden.

“We hope that the book will inspire others and initiate a movement working together towards eliminating hunger,” said Nancy, who co-authored the book aimed at a 4th grade reading level and up. They were able to work almost every vocabulary word that New City School 4th graders learn into the story. Arthur added that Nancy brought a magical touch to the writing.

The Culberts, who have been married for 11 years, have backgrounds in the public health arena. Arthur was dean of a public health program in Boston for 31 years before moving to St. Louis 13 years ago, and Nancy recently retired after 16 years as the Director of Student Services at the College for Public Health & Social Justice at SLU.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Books, Dance, Music, Theater Food and Drink For Children Health & Wellness Urban Gardens  Trinity Episcopal Church Second Presbyterian Church Nancy Culbert Gift Garden Fresh Food Foundation First Unitarian Church CWE Farm Central Reform Congregation Arthur Culbert

Central Reform Congregation and First Unitarian Church, which are neighbors of the CWE Farm, contribute vegetables from their own gardens to the CWE pantries as well. Together they have contributed an additional 1400 pounds of produce. Generous “alley” neighbors from Westminster Place have also joined the effort by contributing produce from their backyard gardens too.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Books, Dance, Music, Theater Food and Drink For Children Health & Wellness Urban Gardens  Trinity Episcopal Church Second Presbyterian Church Nancy Culbert Gift Garden Fresh Food Foundation First Unitarian Church CWE Farm Central Reform Congregation Arthur Culbert

December 10, the date of the book launch, coincides with the 70th anniversary of first proclamation of the Universal Declaration of  Human Rights which in Article 25 declares that everyone has a right to food.

In A Gift Garden, 10-year-old Bea, described as a super hero, declares: “Every person has a right to food,” as she and her friends develop a project to help feed the hungry. The book’s characters decide to become citizens making a difference and work toward planning, building and growing a community gift garden.

Tickets for A Gift Garden Book Launch at The Mahler Ballroom, 4915 Washington, $25 (for soft cover book) to $35 (for hardcover edition), include a copy of the book, a CWE Farm signature drink, light hors d’oeuvres, and music. At 7 p.m. there will be a reading by the authors followed by a Q & A led by KMOV reporter Alexis Zotos. Tickets are available on Eventbrite here. A Gift Garden will be available soon at Left Bank Books.

CWE Farm is a non-profit organization. Proceeds from Monday’s book launch benefit Gift Garden Fresh Food Foundation.