In June 2023, I attended the International Master Gardener Conference in Kansas. Here are a few highlights from the Pockets of Opportunity: An Urban Farm Tour
1st Stop: Kansas City Community Gardens | www.KCCG.org
More than garden plots for rent! Volunteers grow over 180,000 plants in the greenhouse to give away. They purchase bulk seed, package, and sell for 20¢/package.
- Curiosity Garden
- Grain Garden
- Herb Garden
- Giving Groves (fruit/nut trees)
- Pollinator Garden
- Beanstalk Children’s Garden
2nd Stop: Young Family Farm https://youngfamilyfarm.square.site
A NAÏVE, couple (in their 20s) bought a very inexpensive home in Kansas City, MO. What they didn’t know:
- An interstate freeway cut the inner city neighborhood in two
- Homes were torn down
- Families moved out, the bad people moved in.
They noticed no one sat outside on their porch. Why? Bullets flew day and night. Drugs, prostitution, gang fights…surprise! They moved into a war zone.
What to do? Plant a garden! Land was cheap. Lots were selling for $1000. (The City tore down houses and decontaminated the soil.) Then the Youngs started organizing neighbors. Connecting with the elderly and families. A non-profit saw a glimmer of hope in this area and provided funding to build a community center.
Fast forward. The gangs have moved on (they were so intimidated, they sent spies to the community meetings to learn what was going on). The Youngs now grow vegetables on a few city lots around their home (the former war zone) to sell at the local farmer’s market. Neighbors are growing vegetables too. The death threats and flying bullets have stopped. Crime is declining rapidly, healthy eating is on the rise.
3rd Stop: Urban Farm
A nurse and gardener. This one man show grows a ton of food on a little more than one acre in the City. He bought and remodeled two homes. Rents one, lives in the other. He
plants vegetables on a third lot (home torn down/land decontaminated).
He calculates everything. Rows are 50, 100, and 150 ft. long. Why? Irrigation drip tapes are 50 ft increments. Rows are 30” wide. Why? His handheld harvester is 15” wide. He
can walk up a row and back down and the whole crop is harvested.
He spends 20 hours or less a week farming. Net profit from this business is $50,000/year. In his spare time he mentors other urban farmers and promotes healthcare through agriculture.
He only grows vegetables with short lives (lettuce, greens, etc.). The profit is less on vegetables that take longer to grow, beets, cauliflower, etc. His favorite supplier:
4th Stop: Westport Commons Farm
Cultivate KC began working to improve the soil in an old ball field. First it was decontaminated. Then planted with cover crops to build up the soil AND cows were brought in to keep things tidy and fertilize. Really, the cows were the public relations
team to get people comfortable with gardens in the City. Who knew cows do more than eat and poo?
This 1.25 acre farm welcomes 1,000s of visitors and is a food and farming education hub and resource center for community growers. WCF manage an active composting drop-off site, a community greenhouse and gardens, a mobile tool library, and walk-in cooler (which is important in KC).
They also manage the New Roots for Refugees program. A 4-year training program for refugees. Check out more at newrootsforrefugees.org
With home prices rebounding and the housing shortage, owners of the land are finishing plans to build an apartment complex on the land. Westport Commons will be moving. It has had a successful first five years and look forward to many more!
5th Stop: URBAVORE Farm https://www.urbavorefarm.com
URBAVORE is a biologically diverse farmstead set on 13.5 acres in Kansas City’s urban core. The entire property is energy-independent and maintains systems for food production, waste, water, and shelter.
A young, naïve couple bought 13.5 acres of land in the inner city with the intention of changing the world. Many years later, they proved they can. URBAVORE is the largest farm in Kansas City. They raise and sell fruits and vegetables; ducks, chickens, and hogs; and run a citywide compost business which currently serves over 3,000 households.
Highlights of the tour:
- The owner’s home is built into the earth. Year round temperature is about 55°. They don’t have air conditioning and heat with a tiny wood cooking stove.
- Household water comes from a pond, is filtered through a sand pit, and zapped with ultraviolet light before entering the home. Grey water is used to irrigate the fields.
- The use of cover crops and silage tarps* (to kill the cover crop) prepare soil for planting. They use the no-till/drill method to decrease soil erosion, sequester carbon, retain microorganisms and water.
*Silage tarps heat the soil to kill vegetation and seeds. Micro bacteria move to cooler soil and return when conditions are cooler.