KANSAS CITY – Fighting crime, teaching children healthy eating habits, creating community. The burgeoning urban-agriculture movement is credited with all this and more by those who have fostered it here.
Urban farmer Candy Fields described the benefits of turning a row of vacant lots near her home in the city’s old northeast neighborhood into a community garden.
“Prostitutes would take their clients back in the alley,” Fields said. “But as we cleared the land and cultivated it, they don’t hang out there any more.”
Instead, leafy chard with deep red veins and round, green heads of cabbage filled raised gardening beds at The Urban Farming Guys’ Myrtle Plot on Saturday June 25, as patrons of the fourth biennial Urban Farms & Gardens Tour strolled about.
The Myrtle Plot was one of 38 stops on the two-day tour that attracted hundreds, perhaps thousands, to the city’s farms and gardens to share ideas, tips — even a vegetable or two.
The Urban Farming Guys
are a group of do-gooders who deliberately moved into a neglected part of town and are trying to breathe new life into it.
But urban agriculture is popping up all over; spreading organically, if you will, from person to person, plot to plot.
The large turnout at the weekend tour sponsored by the non-profit Cultivate Kansas City was but the latest evidence of the b interest.
Ben Sharda, executive director of Kansas City Community Gardens has been involved in the urban agriculture movement for 26 years. He said interest and participation in it had mushroomed in recent years.
“In the last three years, there has been an amazing amount of growth,” Sharda said. “The reasons are multi-pronged. It definitely has to do with the economy. People are trying to save money on groceries. Then there is the health angle. The news media is constantly telling us about eating more vegetables and having a better diet. And children’s nutrition – avoiding childhood obesity — is such a huge focus now. With schools thinking about how to get kids to eat healthy, that has led to school gardens.”
Sharda said his organization used a grant from the Health Forward Foundation to help 98 local schools establish gardens during the past three years.
That was apart from having fostered 125 “community-partner gardens” on land owned by churches, non-profits, and businesses during the group’s 30-year history.
Cultivate Kansas City is a much newer organization that considers itself part of the same movement as Kansas City Community Gardens. Established in 2005 at the Center for Urban Agriculture, the non-profit group recently renamed itself Cultivate Kansas City.
Executive Director Katherine Kelly said she began farming the group’s two-acre plot — an old cut-flower operation — at 4223 Gibbs Road in Kansas City, Kan., starting in 1997.
With a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, she stopped farming full time and started teaching others the art of urban farming.
The mother farm still operates as a training and educational center and also generates vegetable sales of $100,000 a year.
Cultivate Kansas City also operates a four-year starter program for urban farmers and otherwise helps urban farmers build capacity and network.
The weekend tour was just the latest educational effort among many undertaken by Kelly’s group. Dozens of volunteers showed hundreds of visitors around the 38 farm sites during the weekend.
At Hoop Dog Studio Garden, adjoining a repurposed industrial building at 3314 Troost Ave., owner Cathryn Simmons was spreading the gospel of raised planting beds (“I don’t want to stoop if I don’t have to.”) and the use of trellises for climbing vines (“Go vertical for a more efficient use of space.”)
Kelly stressed the same principles during her “Urban Farming 101” class, held at the Gibbs Road farm a few days before the tour.
“If we had a healthy Kansas City,” Kelly said, “we’d have urban gardens in every neighborhood and lots of home gardens. You’d have a daily consciousness of food being grown and sold. … I see urban farmers as community health advocates.”