Heru Urban Farming Is Cultivating Something Big in St. Louis Neighborhoods

Tyrean "Heru" Lewis and a coworker pose for a photo next to a cart of watermelons.

Heru Urban Farming Is Cultivating Something Big in St. Louis Neighborhoods

Tyrean “Heru” Lewis’ journey into urban farming began with a simple yet profound realization – the scarcity of fresh, sustainable produce in his own community.

Tyrean, a former physical education teacher, recalls his days as a vegan in 2017 when he struggled to find fresh produce.

“Over 850,000 people in the St. Louis metro area don’t have sustainable, healthy produce within walking distance,” Tyrean says. “We’ve got gas stations and Family Dollars where you’re lucky to find a banana or orange by the cash register. Everything is processed and frozen.”

He was thinking about all of this when he came up with the idea to turn a vacant lot near his house into a garden to grow food.

“I had a vacant lot across the street from my house and had a vision,” Tyrean says. “So I started growing food over there and immediately noticed people in the community starting to talk to me about it. I’d lived in this area for five years prior to me starting up the garden, and no one said anything to me prior to that.”

Initially growing produce for himself and his family, Tyrean became inundated with inquiries from neighbors and the local community, sparking the genesis of Heru Urban Farming.

Tyrean Lewis (center right) poses with his coworkers on his urban farm.

From Grants to Growth

In 2019, Tyrean received a grant from The BALSA Foundation, a St. Louis-based nonprofit that supports early-stage entrepreneurs as part of a broader mission to improve social equity in the St. Louis region.

“I learned a lot from The BALSA foundation,” Tyrean says. “They have a lot of great people that were in positions to help mentor and guide me and help me think about the future and evolution of the business.”

And he still keeps in touch.

“Tyrean continues to be involved with the BALSA Foundation as a volunteer, presenter and mentor and is a frequent attendee at our alumni events that bring together past classes for networking and camaraderie,”  says Gabriela Ramirez, communications director at the BALSA Foundation.

Building on this initial support, Tyrean took part in a transformative 10-week development accelerator in 2020 offered by WEPOWER, an organization dedicated to advancing opportunities for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in St. Louis. Through the accelerator program, Tyrean gained invaluable insights into various aspects of business operations, from understanding profit margins to refining marketing strategies.

Then, in 2021, Tyrean seized the opportunity to join the University of Missouri-St. Louis Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator. This program not only provided him with $50,000 in capital but also offered mentorship, tailored training and access to UMSL’s network of students and faculty expertise.

With the support of these programs, Tyrean expanded his business significantly. By the time he graduated from the UMSL program, Tyrean hired two full-time employees and made critical investments in farming insurance and specialized equipment.

With the backing of these programs, Tyrean has expanded his operations significantly, scaling up his property and forging partnerships with local chefs, community organizations and, most recently, the St. Louis Zoo.

Tyrean Lewis with an award from the Missouri State Fair

Empowering Aspiring Growers

Recently, Tyrean received a game-changing boost with a $2.5 million grant from the USDA, which will allow him to purchase between 50 and 100 acres of farmland and bolster his farming infrastructure.

Looking ahead, Tyrean is well-positioned to launch into an ambitious path over the next few years. His vision encompasses not only expanding his farming operations, but also launching a new innovative incubator program that will empower and teach aspiring growers and farmers.

Through this incubator program, Tyrean plans to provide individuals with the resources and support needed to cultivate their own plots of land, fostering a new generation of farmers dedicated to positive change.

“Through the program, we’ll not just be teaching how to grow, but how to create an LLC, how to start a 501(c), how to elevate your product, distribution, and all kinds of different things,” Tyrean says. “After participants’ four years in the program are up, they’ll have the opportunity to get an acre of land which is theirs that they can scale up without exceeding five acres.”

With the backing of the USDA grant, Heru Urban Farming stands poised to play an even larger role in promoting sustainable agriculture practices in the St. Louis metro. With the support of various programs and organizations, Tyrean has turned his vision into reality, transforming vacant lots into thriving farmland and is inspiring others to follow in his footsteps.

> > > Thinking of starting your own business? MOSourceLink can connect you to the resources that can help. Call 866-870-6500 or tell us what you need online, and we’ll create your customized set of next steps that will tell you who can move your business or business idea forward.

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