This report will focus on “America’s Hometown”, Hannibal, Missouri, located in the northeast part of the state, approximately 90 minutes north of St. Louis. A very small city of 18-20,000, it is located along the Mississippi and the “Avenue of the Saints” I-64/40 that runs from St. Louis to St. Paul. Mark Twain is Hannibal’s claim to fame – the city is his boyhood home. As far as any real sustainable initiatives, Hannibal lags far behind.
A like-minded peer and friend, after a stint in grad school in Berlin, recently returned to the area and started a community garden project that she named Common Grounds. Hannibal Parks and Recreation designated one of its flood buy-out zones to the community to be used for the project. Ironically, the Common Grounds received charitable donations from BASF, one of the largest regional manufacturers of agricultural herbicides and pesticides. The outcome of the garden project is still very uncertain as participation is low. Community participation is still comparatively low. Until recently maintenance has often fallen on the administrator. However, she has the superintendent of Hannibal Public Schools on her side. Mrs. Johnson is working with Jessie to introduce an educational program combined with several small-scale intensive gardens at each of the elementary schools. Jessie is also working hard to revamp the local farmers market to make it more appealing and attractive to younger participants.
Hannibal’s local economy is fairly stagnant. The population remains the same – just as many people come in as die or leave. Hannibal has a few large manufacturing, food, and chemical plants that support many Hannibal residents: General Mills, BASF, Watlow, and Buckhorn and a few others. Business start-ups come and go in the historical downtown area. The majority fair well during the summer tourist season but very few survive the first two years as there is not a large enough customer base to support them throughout the remainder of the year. Hannibal also has the lowest cost of housing in the United States. Hannibal is highly dependent on government and local welfare programs like NECAC, United Way, American Red Cross, and Douglas Community Center.
On a brighter note, Mississippi Dry Goods and Ayers Pottery are two local shops on Main Street in the historical downtown area of Hannibal that work hard to promote and sell local goods. Ayers Pottery produces local pottery that is renowned in this region. Java Jive, a local coffee shop, and Fresh Ayers, both owned and operated by the Ayers’ daughter, sell works of art by local artists. Mississippi Dry Goods offers specialty sauces, jellies, jams and produce from local growers and makers.
Local waste management
Hannibal offers a very modest recycling program. The Sheltered Workshop employs people with special needs to accept and sort cardboard, paper, and plastic. Merkel Metal Recycling Division is the leading scrap metal recycling center in Northeast Missouri. They are a full service center that provides purchasing, sorting, processing, marketing, and trucking or scrap metal for industrial, commercial, and residential customers.
Advanced building codes
As far as I could find, of the three local architect and engineering firms, none were equipped to handle LEED certified projects. The nearest LEED certified firm is in Columbia, Missouri, the central part of the state.
Education, advocacy and networking efforts
The superintendent of Hannibal public schools appears to be a progressive thinker and is trying to bring in educational programs centered on renewable energy and community gardening.
The only public transportation that Hannibal offers is Older Adult Transportation System (OATS), which operates a fleet of busses and drives people around for a very low fee. The Parks and Rec department has put in a few bike lanes and one short bike trail along Bear Creek. There is a growing community of cyclists, including myself, (one group of doctors has biked every weekend for years) persists in spite of Hannibal’s unfriendly non-accommodation of cyclists.
The Hannibal Arts community, the Community Garden, and those belonging to Hannibal Historic Preservation Society may be the only grassroots organizations I know of. They promote local arts, crafts and food.
It is quite apparent that Hannibal has lots of room for improvement in the area of sustainability. Through the years I have thought about trying to lend a hand by trying to join the city council or something. I have supported the local Hannibal Arts Council and tried to lend a hand designing a children’s museum. However, I end up concluding that my time could be spent more productively elsewhere.