J500 Media and the Environment

Growing Plants and Relationships: Katherine Kelly at KCCUA by brennad87

Katherine in the leafy greenhouse at KCCUA.

Katherine Kelly in the leafy greenhouse at KCCUA.

Katherine chats with each customer at the spring transplant sale.

Katherine chats with each customer at the spring transplant sale.

From our perch on top of a stack of soggy hay bales, six-year-old Evangeline Ellingsworth and I can see the entirety of the farm that is her stomping ground. Beyond the curved hoophouses and stillbarren fields, lie ranch style houses, a school, and the buzzing freeway. The farm is smack in the center of an urban environment.

Six-year-old Evangeline Ellingsworth, daughter of KCCUA farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth.

Six-year-old Evangeline Ellingsworth, daughter of KCCUA farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth, makes the farm her playground.

Evangeline, daughter of farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth, explains to me the workings of the urban farm where she is growing up.

“Well,” she says, “Katherine is kind of the boss around here.”

From our high position, we can see the woman herself, framed in the doorway of the greenhouse. Katherine Kelly is the co-founder, executive director and soul of Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture—a working farm and community center. She stands in her characteristic position, one leg up as she talks to folks milling around the spring transplant sale. With the farm’s responsibility on her shoulders, Katherine is busy. But she has time for a chat with everyone this busy Saturday afternoon– the farm crew, her customers, the refugee women she teaches to farm for a living.

“Have you ever had a boss who hugs you and you cry on?” asks Evangeline’s mom, farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth. “I see Katherine hug ten people a day.”

Katherine kindles the community spirit of the farm. She originally founded the farm to satisfy her own desire to live in the city and farm at the same time. However, her history as a community organizer kicked in as soon as she began to meet other farmers. In talking, she heard a common theme: “It used to be, if you were a farmer, you had grown up in it,” she said. “There is no longer the experience base or industrial infrastructure that there used to be.”

With Katherine’s hard work, development and apprenticeship programs strengthening local agricultural infrastructure sprung up around KCCUA. One project is the Juniper Gardens Training Farm, where local farmers helps refugee woman negotiate the challenges of starting an urban farm.

“They are all about relationships,” Katherine said. “Farmers are not classroom people. We all learn really well by thinking problems out loud with each other.”

From policymakers to religious leaders, Katherine speaks with everyone about the growing movement supporting local food, a movement she fully believes in.

“Agriculture is a connecting activity,” she said. “We are the very immediate part of people’s decision to be healthy and to live well and to take care of their family and friends.”

Katherine Kelly points a customer to fresh, home-grown greens at the spring transplant sale.

Katherine points a customer to fresh, home-grown greens at the spring transplant sale.

KCCUA’s many programs mean that Katherine spends an equal amount of time in the office organizing as actually in the dirt. Sometimes it’s a hard balance. Katherine worries about her produce until the Saturday morning market. As she walked quickly through the greenhouse with me on a Friday afternoon, I complimented her on what looked to me like Eden: rows of leafy greens and blooming flowers.

“Oh, I see a lot of problems out there,” she said with a wry smile.

Only the next morning in the pre-dawn chill, as the farm crew packed the vegetables for market, did she finally relax.

Katherine Kelly listens to the questions of a fellow farmer.

Katherine listens to the questions of a fellow farmer.

“I think things are going to be all right,” she said.

Katherine’s customers know the care she takes with her produce. KCCUA’s fresh-tasting tomatoes have the farm’s own guarantee, a guarantee customers value after recent salmonella outbreaks in food produced by large corporations. Even organic labels do not have that personal guarantee: according to a New York Times article, large corporations produce 25% of organic foods. At the Saturday morning farmers market, Katherine meets customers who have raised their children on her produce. She supports people, she feeds them. It is one and the same.

Plants grow and relationships grow together at this farm. Back in the greenhouse, a Hmong woman, Kim, solemnly waters her budding greens. Angela, a cheerful woman who runs a church youth garden, trims plants with two young girls. The girls are timidly friendly, telling me shyly that they love harvest time. Angela prepares the food that they’ve grown into such delicacies as red cabbage with apple. She is proud to be teaching these young girls about farming. Everyone is sharing stories, asking advice, and learning. At the heart is Katherine. She is the go-to person for everything.

“She is my best farming friend,” says Angela.

“You do this because it suits you,” Katherine said. “It fits what you want to create in the world.”

— Brenna Daldorph

podcast: drumm farm by jessicasb
May 10, 2009, 9:03 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, Nature + Travel | Tags: , , , ,

Listen to Bruce and Maureen Branstetter from Drumm Farm discuss what visitors to their farm should expect during the KC Urban Farms and Garden Tour on June 28, 2009.

Drumm Farm in Independence, Mo., is home to foster children and a 2- to 3-acre farm. The farm sells its produce for 29 weeks, from mid-April to mid-October, at its own market and at the Farmers Community Market at Brookside on Saturdays, and at the 39th Street Community Market on Wednesdays.

Go here to stream the podcast from the Web.

Jessica Sain-Baird, Mackenzie Steffen and Megan Richards contributed to the making of this podcast.

Podcast: Juniper Gardens by alyv

Aye Aye Nu came to America as a refugee from Thailand six years ago. She came here through Catholic Charities, which placed her and her now 9-year-old son, Nito, in Kansas. In their time here, Aye Aye says Nito has grown to like American food more than the natural food she grows on the farm in Kansas City. This is a common trend in immigrants to America. However, Aye Aye continues to get a lot of joy from working on the farm and selling what she grows at the Farmers Market. She and the other refugees at Juniper Gardens are able to reconnect with the land, and their agricultural pasts, everyday on the farm.

Listen to the podcast.

Podcast Transcript

Justin Leverett: This is Juniper Gardens, an urban farm near the I-70 underpass just outside Kansas City. We spoke to Aye Aye Nu, an immigrant farmer, and Rachel Bonar.

Rachel BonarRachel Bonar: I work for Catholic Charities and the Refugee Resettlement Department. And this is a training farm for refugees. Right now, we work with women. And we would work with men if they wanted to but it’s not a consistent, yearlong income, so most of the men have other jobs and the women can come here.

Aye Aye do you want to, do you have anything you want to say about the farm?

Aye Aye Nu: I don’t know, Rachel.

RB: How has it been for you to be a farmer?Aye Aye Nu at market.

AA: I think, so, I like to farmer, because, the vegetables are good for healthy. Like, because, um, be stronger, be happy farm. We plant the garden, because we have food, no problem. We can spread it too for other, for market, for money. I think about, another, like, for others, for friends, maybe we need to, like share together, for other people, for, like, happy. I think about that.

JL: So the food you can make you can give to people, your friends.

AA: Yeah. We like to sell, fun, you know, market. Like, “Hey, my friend, take home. Take home.” They say, “Thank you, we are hAye Aye's flowers.appy.” I think about like that.

RB: Aye Aye plants beautiful flowers.

AA: I sell my flowers, happy, you know like, sometimes. Not sometimes, always. I see them, I say, “Oh my flowers go up. Go up.” Like, you know, my baby.

JL: How long have you lived here?

AA: I am six years here.

Aye Aye and Nito Nu.JL: Six years here. Do you have family? Do you have kids?

AA: Yes, my son. He’s 9 years old. His name is Nito. He’s a very handsome boy.

RB: He’s so cute.

AA: He’s so cute. He’s in first grade.

Aly Van Dyke: Does he help you, on the farm?

AA: Only he helps me watching TV, at home.

JL: so you get to cook for him with the food that you make here?

AA: Yeah, sometimes he like to eat my food. Sometimes, always he like to eat American food. Cheese, sour chicken, some place, like KFC, Papa John’s or something. Cheese and bread, like how do you make it here? I don’t understand.

RB: Grilled cheese.

Matthew Bristow: Back home, when you grew all year round, and now here it’s only half of the year, like six months. What do you do in the winter since you cannot grow?

Aye Aye Nu on farm.AA: Stay home. Um, I have this last year I looked the job in the Triumph Company. Because of very far drive I will quit from this job.

RB: Everybody works at the Triumph. It’s a pork processing plant, a slaughterhouse, in St. Joseph. So it was an hour away. A lot, a lot of people are actually moving, refugees are migrating from other places in the United States to come here to work at that place. It pays pretty good, but it’s really, really hard work and everyone’s working second and third shifts, so it’s overnight. So when Aye Aye was working, her son was home by himself. Like she would leave while he was at school and then he would come home from school and be by himself.

AA: He say, ‘Ma, when are you done with this job, when you quit?’ he ask me one time. I say, ‘Nito, I will quit this job, ok?’ He say, ‘Ok ma.’

JL: What to you sort of hope for the future? Do you hope more people will get involved?

AA: Uh, future? I have my son, I think about only my son. I don’t have thought for future. Because, only my son. Because he go out, like he go be interested in something, maybe college. Or maybe something.

JL: What do you hope for in the future?Farmer and children at Juniper Gardens.

RB: My hope would be, um, for this year I have a lot of hope for the Farmers Market here on site. I really want to, um, make that more a part of what we do. And I’m hopeful that we can, whatever the women want to do we can make it happen that you know we can work on any of the barriers that are standing in the way. And if Aye Aye wants to have her own farm, sell at lots of markets, then I hope she can do it.

-By Group 2: Justin Leverett, Matthew Bristow, Aly Van Dyke and Tina Wood

Pictures also submitted by Katherine Kelly and the New Roots for Refugees Facebook page.

See our video of market reserach!

Podcast: KCCUA, Bringing the Community Together with Food by Janie

The Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture is an example of how one business can have a positive impact by supporting local farmers and providing fresh food and economic viability to the Kansas City community.

Listen to co-founder Katherine Kelly and farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth explain the inner workings of urban farming by clicking on the link below (scroll down the linked page to to select the podcast file to download):

KCCUA, Bringing the Community Together with Food: Katherine Kelley and Alicia Ellingsworth

Podcast Transcript

Seedlings at KCCUA

Seedlings at KCCUA

Brenna Daldorph (narrator): It’s a chilly, cold pre-dawn but at Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture, everyone is moving. Trucks are being loaded with carrots and watercress, seedlings and sprouts in preparation for the season’s first market. Farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth describes the scene:

Farm Manager Alicia Ellingsworth:  All week long we worry: do we have enough this, do we have enough that, I mean, it’s a farmer thing. Oh, those tomato plants, you know, no one is gonna buy them or the cabbage, it’s not quite good enough, or why won’t that lettuce stand up tall? And the first thing that Katherine said to me this morning was in the dark, and she was getting there five minutes late and she said: ‘I’m sorry I’m late! I overslept!’ Well, you know, it’s understandable at four thirty in the morning. And then, she turned around with a smile and said: ‘I think the plants are gonna be all right, I think they are gonna look okay!”… All night long, she thought of this and this was the first thought she said in the morning: ‘I think it’s gonna be all right!” And, you know, they’re green and they look like a tomato plant so you know, so yeah…”

Katherine Kelly

Katherine Kelly

Daldorph: Katherine Kelly is the co-founder of KCCUA, an urban farm set in an acre of land in the heart of Kansas City.

Ellingsworth: Katherine said this morning how she’s been coming to the market here for seven years and customers come, most all of them thank us for being here. They are so excited that the market has started again. I think it means something that you can eat it without wondering how much pesticide had been sprayed on it or how far it’s come. And the food tastes good. It’s fresh, you know, we picked it yesterday.

Daldorph: The community spirit between the growers and the customers at the market is at the core of KCCUA’s business. It is just one example of the many ways in which the remarkable farm plays an important role in the Kansas City community.

The KCCUA greenhouse

The KCCUA greenhouse

Ellingsworth: Well, I’m finding out that it’s not just a farm that I got a job at.

Daldorph: As Katherine Kelly herself says:

Katherine Kelly, co-founder of KCCUA: We’re both a working vegetable farm, which means that we are geared towards production and harvesting and selling but we are also a place that builds and creates community. And the balance between those two things is not always very easy.

Daldorph: One thing is certain: KCCUA’s urban location certainly has an impact.

Kelly: Um, I’ve found that because you’re in town, you can create different relationships with people than if you are out in the country. You can more easily be part of their everyday lives. They can drive by and see other farmers, they can see farmers working in their fields, or in their gardens, which is how most people think of them. And so, there’s this way that it becomes more integrated into their daily lives.

Daldorph: KCCUA’s urban location also brought the farmers into contact with other farmers. In talking to them, Katherine saw certain needs surface and being a community organizer; she decided to do something about it.

Kelly helps a customer

Kelly helps a customer

Kelly: So, what I saw a need for was farmers needed to learn how to be farmers and how to be business people and how to market and how to source materials and I saw a whole bunch of us going through the same growing pains and it seemed to me that it’s a useful thing if you are going through growing pains to find other people and share your learning and share what you’ve figured out and learn from what other people have figured out, too.

Kelly (continued): So the first program we started was called Urban Farmer Development and it was funded by the USDA under a community food projects grant. We train apprentices here, we train volunteers, we use the farm as a learning center…

Kelly (continued): So the latest program we’ve started is called the Juniper Gardens Training Farm and Community Gardens and it came out of a several year partnership with Catholic Charities. We had been working with them to train a group of refugee women in market gardening and it’s a farm business incubation model which means that they come in with a certain amount of experience, we work with them over several years to help them develop business skills, production skills, marketing skills and then, they will graduate from the program and we will work with them to find land of their own: either that they will buy or permanent land for them to work.

Daldorph: Working with the refugee women gave Katherine one of her favorite memories of time on the farm.

Kelly: You know, at the market in the morning when we get there in the fall…we get there and it’s dark yet, the sun

Local gardeners tend their crops at KCCUA

Local gardeners tend their crops at KCCUA

hasn’t come up and so our farm–our crew–is there first and we’re unloading and then the next crew that gets there are the refugee women.  And so you’ll be there in the dark, unloading vegetables, and it will be kind of cool and crisp.  And they will be maybe twenty feet away from us, in the parking lot where we set up.  And you’ll hear their voices and their laughter in all these different languages, and you’ll hear the sound of  buckets being shifted around and tables being set up.  But there’s this sound of the market the morning before customers get there-it’s really really wonderful.  And it’s made even deeper because of–right there in that market–you’ve got people from all over the world.  And uh, so I don’t know…it’s pretty, it’s pretty magical.

Daldorph: KCCUA is not just another business; it’s part of the living, local economy.  And it gives to the community around it both fresh food and love.

Ellingsworth: I see Katherine hugging ten people a day.  People that would come, and the talks we have in the garden and the places that we bring each other that are way bigger than just food.

Kelly: The people who come here–you know, thirty years from now, forty years from now–they are going to remember the summer they spent here and they will…their relationship with food–whether they go into agriculture or not–and a good number of them will–but their relationship to food and to work is forever going to be shaped by what they did on our farm.

Podcast by Group 3–Brenna Daldorph, Amanda Thompson, and Janie Chen

Podcast music by Robots vs. Dinosaurs

Photos by Brenna Daldorph

J-14 Agricultural Enterprises: Joe Jennings by marybethw

jjennings2 Every place he’s lived, there has always been one constant in Joe Jennings’ life: farming. Today that farming takes place on 8.5 acres in Kansas City, Kansas; only about fifteen minutes from downtown, J-14 Agricultural Enterprises seems a world apart. The acreage produces everything from beans to broccoli, garlic to onions, strawberries, apples, pears, plums, and peaches. There are often animals, such as rabbits and pigs – although Joe plans on getting rid of the latter, clearing out the pigpen space, and planting more greens. 

Joe, 81, is no stranger to farm life. The second of fifteen children, he grew up on a farm near Houston, Texas during the Great Depression. That time left an impression: as a small child, he remembers being in town and asking his mom about the line of people outside a nearby building; she told him it was a soup line and, not understanding the significance, Joe asked how he could get in the line for soup. In 1946, the family got its first tractor and Joe often missed school that year helping to plow. After earning a certificate in carpentry from Prairie View A. & M., Joe was drafted into the Army and then spent over thirty-seven years in the Air Force Reserves. He moved to Kansas City in 1970 to take a job with the school system and worked there until his 1999 “retirement.” He’s still busy, though, but he doesn’t consider his farm a job – in fact he says that he doesn’t have a “job, I have a joy, j-o-y.” 

Within a week of moving to Kansas, Joe’s had a one acre farm. When he originally bought his current location in 1997, he planned on using the land to build houses but, because of problems with the city, he instead decided to turn it into a farm. You might think that 8.5 acres would be plenty to take care of; but, since 1994 Joe also has owned a 211 acre farm in Texas where he has 75 head of cattle. 


Since 2000, Joe has run J-14 as a you pick CSA operation, which means after paying the subscription fee ($300 for 2009) and getting a key to his gate, you can go in whenever you want and pick as much as you want – up to 500 pounds! As Joe’s quick to point out, that’s a much better deal than you’d find in any grocery store. And he’s right; recent comparisons point to CSAs as better choices financially (and for other reasons, too). At peak production, Joe can feed 150 families, but he always ends up with a lot extra. That extra gets turned into “love packages” that he takes to elderly members of the community. He tells of going into area nursing homes, finding the oldest residents, and presenting them with his homegrown produce.

During the summer, Joe helps teens – or rather they help each other. Groups of Youth Volunteer Corps members can be found working the fields and, while this helps J-14, it also helps the volunteers. Studies have shown that youth who volunteer are more likely to also volunteer as adults, as well as to donate. Youth volunteers also are less likely to choose unhealthy lifestyles, tend to have greater self-esteem, and tend to have a more positive attitude than non-volunteers. 

Whether he’s working with teenagers or giving out “love packages,” Joe follows the same philosophy. “Who did you help today?” he asks, “If you didn’t help anyone, you didn’t help yourself.” 

~Mary Beth

Reconnect: With Your Past by justinlev7

Farmers pass on more to their children than their name. They pass on their cultural legacy, in the form of  agricultural tradition. Their greatest fortune is the soil they cultivate.


By helping their children till this soil and plant seeds, farmers  pass along the tips and tricks that their ancestors had left to them. Years later, their children inherit the land, add their own innovations, and pass them on to their children. 

Try to remember when your land was this important to you. It was your cultural legacy, your unique perspective on life, and your fortune. It was the age of the family farm, in the truest sense of the term.

Now, we live in the age of the factory farm. Our food is abundant but obscure. Our land is simply a site for a house, a tree or two, and a manicured lawn. The convenience of the corner grocery store has killed our need to produce our own food.

Despite having to plant their roots in a new country, immigrant farmers Pov (pronounced Paul) Huns and Aye Aye Nu used their farms to reconnect with their heritage.

Pov, originally from Laos, farms untraditionally. “It’s common American practice to keep weeds out, and I’m the one that says keep the weeds in,” he said. And Aye Aye, from Thailand, grows chaibong, a Burmese sorrel that usually can’t be found in the U.S., at her Kansas City, Kan., farm. She has driven as far as Omaha to sell her crop to fellow immigrants.

Follow their example! Help your children start a garden this summer. Dig a plot near your house, plant some seeds, and water and weed every now and then. Spray each other your hose! Get muddy! Get some dirt in your fingernails! You’ll keep cool, and your kids won’t forget it.

-By Justin Leverett, Group 2

Reconnect: With Your Health by alyv


Most people know bananas can corral Charlie horses. Some figure carrots help eyesight. And we know eating oranges keeps you from coming down with scurvy.

But what if our food could go beyond fixing our hiccups? What if, instead of filling prescriptions and taking a conga line of pills, we could find natural remedies right there in our fruits and veggies?

Turns out, we can.

People started using herbs and produce as medicine more than 5,000 years ago. Although food has changed a lot in that time – with the advent of pesticides, herbicides, additives and artificial flavoring – food still contains nutrients that can tame the common cold and keep your blood sugar low – you just have to know what to look for.

For the most part, foods with the highest nutrients, and therefore more medicinal, are the foods grown organically and, preferably, local.

“Conventional vegetables that are brought in tend to lose essential nutrients before they are bought,” said Pov (pronounced Paul) Huns. He used spinach as an example, saying spinach loses essential nutrients when it hasn’t been consumed in at least a week.

Pov is an urbaepazoten farmer in Kansas City, Kan., and grows more than 40 vegetables on his 4-acre farm. He started his farm, not for the tax write-offs or the sales income, but for the health benefits of naturally grown, local food.

Try Pov’s ginger or epazote for your irritable-bowel syndrome.bitter-melon

Menstrual cramps? Put down the Midol and have some bitter eggplant.

Got high cholesterol, high blood pressure and/or high blood sugar? Pov’s bitter melons might help. New research has found that this fruit may be an alternative medicine for HIV.

lemongrassCan’t beat your cold? Have some organic, locally harvested lemongrass tea.

And if you’re not satisfied with your allergy pills, try his pak choy. The blooms are supposed to help with the itching and sneezing.

But Pov isn’t the only local contributor to the medicinal food movement.

honeyKansas City also has a few resident-beekeepers. The honey from their well-kept bees have many medicinal purposes: preventing seasonal allergies, treating cuts and burns, upping your energy, providing natural vitamins and antioxidants, helping you lose weight.

It’s incredible to think that food has the power not only to sustain us, but to keep us alive and healthy too. That health care doesn’t have to come from a bottle, but can come from a vine out of the earth or the honey of a bee.

That the food we take so much for granted could help free us from the prescription-world we live in and release us into a world where food, grown as it should be, where it should be, provides us with all the nutrients and medicine we need.

By Group 2: Matt Bristow, Justin Leverett, Aly Van Dyke and Tina Wood

Thanks to Botanical Research Center, Gourmet Sleuth, Alumni Roundup, Food Subs and Alibaba,  to for the pictures

Thanks to You Tube for the video.