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Education

After A Kansas City, Kansas, School Gardening Program Hits Hard Times, Neighbors Prop It Back Up

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KCK Organic Teaching Gardens
Northwest Middle School students have helped maintain a garden on school grounds since 1999.

A program that brings gardening into classrooms in Kansas City, Kansas, suffered another setback after the program’s van was stolen and crashed earlier this month.

KCK Organic Teaching Gardens has been around for twenty years, planting gardens at elementary and middle schools in Kansas City, Kansas to teach students about science, nutrition and history. Earlier this year it lost 90% of its funding, and now, the van, which held the group’s tools, is out of commission, too.

“There’s like five garden hoses, a toolbox full of staple guns and staples, a toolbox full of hammers, a toolbox full of saws and a weed eater and a power saw and a power drill and about 55 hand trowels,” Mark Manning, coordinator for the KCK Organic Teaching Gardens said. 

The gold, 2002 Dodge Grand Caravan didn’t look like much even before it crashed. Manning called it the garden van. 

It was deemed “undrivable,” by the Kansas City Kansas Police Department, and Manning said he will need to pay a tow truck to remove it from the lot.

“It’s at the city tow lot,” Manning said. “They broke out the passenger side window and busted the steering column to start the van, and there’s a lot of extensive damage to the front end of the van and I’m not even sure what is going to be inside.”

The organization had already been relying on donations through GoFundMe, a crowd-funding website, after the loss of a major grant in January. Now, Manning said some community members have offered their gardening tools to maintain the gardens, and one organization has offered to get him a temporary vehicle. 

It isn’t a surprising response, considering the impact of KCK Organic Teaching Gardens.

Two decades in schools

In 1999, a Northwest Middle School Science Teacher, Fulece Hughes and her students collaborated with Manning to build a garden at their school. They built 12 plots where, two decades later, Hughes and her sixth-graders still grow native plants and vegetables alongside Manning.

“They just really respect that garden,” Hughes said. “They love that garden. Very seldom does it get vandalized because that is one area that they just like, they want to make sure they keep it nice.”

Her school is in a food desert. She said the closest grocery store is miles away, making the garden valuable beyond her classroom; she said it is also a food source for students and people in her community.

“Some students after school will ask if they can get some tomatoes and some peppers for home,” Hughes said. “It’s nice to be able to have fresh produce for area people that may not be mobile enough to get to the grocery store.” 

Because of the garden, Hughes now hosts an after-school garden club, and many students tell her they have gardens at home. She said former students have told her they eat healthier as adults because of the garden. 

Every month, Manning still does workshops with her students.

“It’s just wonderful,” Hughes said. “I really appreciate him and we both work together wonderfully.”

Northwest Middle School is just one of seven schools in Kansas City, Kansas, that Manning’s program has affected.

Another GoFundMe was started with a goal of $30,000 to replace the van and tools. So far, almost $8,000 have been donated and the fundraiser has been shared nearly 900 times on social media. 

The page is filled with words of support for Manning and the work he does. He said he will be able to replace the van with the donated funds.

“I have friends at all the schools where we work,” Manning said. “I’ve gotten letters and notes of encouragement from students and teachers at schools too, so that’s been reassuring and very sweet.”

Avery Gott is an intern at KCUR.

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