beth neff, co-founder of marsh photo by virginia harold

What I Do: Beth Neff, co-founder of MARSH in the Carondelet neighborhood of St. Louis

Beth Neff hadn’t lived in St. Louis since she was 12 when she bought a mixed-use building in Carondelet with her daughter, Esther. There, they co-founded Materializing and Activating Radical Social Habitus (MARSH), a “bio-cultural laboratory” that includes a co-op, a sliding scale grocery store, a network of farm lots, a CSA and a community gathering space. Here, Neff dives into just a few integral parts of MARSH, how she spends her (very long) days, and what the future holds for her passion project.

“We’re a social arts practices laboratory. We’re exploring what it takes to change existing systems that we see as being exploitive and extractive. Instead of doing a research paper, we’re trying things out.” 

“The food system seemed like an obvious place to start our explorations. We know that workers – whether picking in a field or working in a grocery store or preparing food in a restaurant – are generally low paid, work long hours, [and] have little say over the governance of the organizations they’re working in.”

“[An outcome] of membership [in MARSH] is possible distribution of profit – which would be tiny, if at all – but more the idea that the governance of the organization is through the membership.”

“Members nominate and elect board members; they’re [also] involved in decision making, they can use the facility, make a proposal for planning an event or use the kitchen or dining space we have.”

"Anyone can shop here. We’re open to the public 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday thru Saturday, but we do offer the option for people to become a member [with a] $100 lifetime payment or through patronage: Shop at the store 10 times, and you become a member.”

"We grow a lot of the food that is sold in the grocery, shared with people through our CSA program, [and that’s] available both on the shelf and in prepared foods. We do a lot of cooking.”

“It’s turned out that food waste has been a huge issue that we’re in a good position to address. Nothing goes to waste at MARSH – anything that’s getting close to [being] out of date, any produce that has a flaw – we turn it into something delicious and nutritious."

“When we’re still in the growing season, my days are long. When it was hot, mornings are as early as 5:30 or 6 a.m., working in the garden, planting, weeding, harvesting – usually just until it’s intolerable to be outside when it’s 100 degrees – then transitioning into the kitchen, spending most of the rest of the day and sometimes late into the evening cooking.”

“I think we’ve gotten a lot of things figured out. But we really need to get out into our neighborhood right beside us. We have a good, solid membership – over 200 members – but we want to be a neighborhood grocery. That’s kind of the dream.”

“We don’t get a lot of chances in our present world to participate in something that really allows us to think and act on our principles. MARSH is a way to. There are lot of places that people can meet up with this idea, whether it’s food or music or conversation, to actually put the principles into action.”

MARSH, 6917 S. Broadway, St. Louis,,

Tags : People