Got a green thumb? Dig into Kansas City's community gardens and urban farms
These gardens, farms and resources are just a sampling of the organizations working to end food insecurity in Kansas City.
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Predicting the weather in Kansas City is risky business no matter the season, but you know what they say: April showers bring May flowers. Or heirloom tomatoes in July. Or rows of bushes strung with fuzzy green beans. We’ll take several of each, please.
Whatever your favorite fruit or vegetable, it’s possible to pick them up, have them delivered or even help grow them yourself at one of Kansas City’s urban farms, community gardens or nonprofits working to put an end to food insecurity.
Here, find a sampling of local organizations daring enough to get dirt under their nails in the name of shared growth and equity — often in the middle of the city. With a new season upon us, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Urbavore Urban Farm
Urbavore Urban Farm is more than just a clever name.
Located just off Blue Parkway near LC’s Bar-B-Q, Urbavore’s sprawling 13.5-acre farmstead is home to two hundred heritage breed laying hens. The flock roams free-range, turning up the soil in unused fields to ready them for the next growing season.
Urbavore also has pigs, who you will (probably) be introduced to if you sign up to help on the farm as a casual volunteer, volunteer apprentice or full-time apprentice. “Turn off your cell phone and embrace the dirt!” reads a message on the farm’s website. Getting outside has its benefits, and helping others lets us help ourselves.
Besides the pork and eggs available through Urbavore’s market, where orders are placed on Wednesdays and picked up on Thursdays, you’ll find a cornucopia of fruits and veggies ripe for purchase. Some of these include strawberries, blueberries, muskmelons, asparagus, potatoes, garlic, specialty roots and those heirloom tomatoes we mentioned before.
On top of everything else, Urbavore is persistent in its goal of building a community that “produces and creates more than it consumes and destroys.”
For Urbavore, sustainability is the name of the game. The farm engages in healthy soil practices, which involve a no-till approach, zero pesticides, the planting of native wildflowers and even a composting program that is free to all residential households in the metro area.
Located in south Kansas City between Grandview and Lee’s Summit, the BoysGrow nonprofit collective is an agricultural epicenter of learning.
Each summer, 30 teenagers commit to two years of paid work on the 10-acre farm, acquiring skills that can be utilized to further their careers after graduation. However, agrarian know-how isn’t all that the annual crop of entrepreneurs comes away with.
Individuals with interest in the culinary arts can choose to cook for other youth and farm staff, which means preparing meals for about 35 people. According to the website, these future chefs “learn how to give and receive direction in the kitchen,” plus “develop necessary teamwork and the confidence to make decisions” in a fast-paced environment.
BoysGrow residents, who live off-campus but are bussed in from downtown Kansas City, can also delve into construction, mechanics, public speaking and even marketing, where they help run the nonprofit’s website and social media pages. All of this, in turn, fosters empathy and a business-savvy, real-world skillset.
Thanks to the farm’s young caretakers and long-term staff, food from BoysGrow has appeared all over the city. From grocery stores like the Hy-Vee in Lee’s Summit to Novel and Café Gratitude, harvests have yielded approximately 20,000 pounds of organic produce, with over 1,000 pounds going to local food banks and shelters so far.
To say Kanbe’s Markets has made a big splash in its five years would be an understatement.
With products in corner stores all over town, the nonprofit is a force of nature and goodwill. For Kanbe’s, the mission is simple: the ever-expanding group of grassroots volunteers and staff work to put fresh, budget-friendly fruits and veggies in places where they might not yet exist.
Though Kansas City has its fair share of grocery stores, families living in the middle of the city have to drive a few neighborhoods over, or into the suburbs, to get to them. Gas is expensive. And the price of groceries is on the rise, too — already 8.6% higher now than in February 2021, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The lack of grocery stores and limited transportation resources on the east side of the city’s racially-dividing line, Troost Avenue, has created a stark division of residents experiencing food insecurity,” reads a statement on the Kanbe’s Markets website.
The organization recognized that supplying corner stores with quality goods would put those goods in the hands of people who needed them most. Plus, the stores themselves make a profit.
Additionally, seasonal produce is either sourced from local farms or donated or sold from wholesalers to Kanbe’s at discounted prices. Prices stay low, anything that can be composted is brought back to farms and 30% of shared revenue stays in the community.
Get all the details on upcoming events like Kanbe’s Earth Day pop-up party and the annual Kanbe’s Fest on Instagram.
Kansas City is a city of collaborators, and Cultivate KC is no different.
Founded by organic farmers in 2005, the nonprofit has always advocated for equal access to food and — according to the website — a democratic system in which “the ecological and personal health and well-being of Kansas City residents is prioritized.”
Over the years, Cultivate KC has become a pillar of the local food-sharing community, working with an astonishing number of Kansas City-area farms, restaurants, farmers markets and programs like Food Not Lawns, which offers classes in sustainable gardening through UMKC.
Add to the list the management of three food-growing sites, including the Westport Commons Farm, a garden near the Plexpod on E. 39th Street in Midtown. Other plots of land include the Juniper Gardens Training Farm on Richmond Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, and the Food Forest in Merriam, Kansas.
The Food Forest is a rarity indeed: Its grounds are home to 39 varieties of fruit and nut trees. Human interference is minimal — with the goal being soil improvement — and stability in the space depends on cooperation between insects, trees including Chinese chestnut and persimmon and shrubs like thyme, sage and sea kale.
Cultivate KC also maintains the New Roots for Refugees program, which helps displaced individuals regain agency over their lives. Through a four-year series of workshops relating to pest control, marketing, infrastructure and the sale of produce at farmers markets and area restaurants, refugees with agricultural experience become independent farmers.
And for those looking to pitch in, the Westport Commons Farm hosts open volunteer days on Tuesdays from March 1 until September 30. Time to get planting!
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