J500 Media and the Environment


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. 

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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

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Food for Everyone by marybethw

There are as many different types of consumers of local food as there are different types of urban farmers and different types of food grown. Consumers with different needs can all benefit from urban farming. Three farms on the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture farm tour explain this perfectly. Kurlbaum’s Heirloom Tomatoes, J-14 Agricultural Enterprises and the Troostwood Youth Garden and provide food for many different kinds of people. 

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Kurlbaum’s heirloom tomatoes are sold locally at McGonigal’s, Brookside Market, and many Kansas City restaurants including Michael Smith’s in the crossroads, Café Trio in midtown and Webster House downtown. By selling to many different places Co-owner Liz Kurlbaum can have better control over the price and feed a larger group of people.  While this urban farmer chooses to sell their product mostly to restaurants, Joe Jennings at J-14 Agricultural Enterprises has a different approach.

Jennings has developed a community based CSA where potential customers can pay 300$ for up to 500 pounds of produce. Extra food is taken to elderly community members, including some in nursing homes. Jennings also uses some of the food grown for his family.

The Troostwood Youth Garden is the only place that fresh vegetables are available in the busy Paseo Blvd. neighborhood in Kansas City.  This local produce can be bought there Monday through Saturday before dark. Troostwood feeds the community as well as educates them about the importance of eating healthy and knowing where food really comes from.

These different urban farms show that everyone can eat well with the help of urban farmers. Whether someone is eating at a restaurant, buying a large supply of food for their family, or trying to find something fresh in a busy neighborhood, urban farming is helping people enjoy food that is local, healthy and delicious.

~ Tyler Waugh, Group 4 blog post

Farmer’s market photo credit.



Feeding the (urban) masses by marybethw

This season, I’m a CSA newbie. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’d heard the wonders of having fresh produce at your doorstep throughout the summer, but this spring, for the first time, I am a participant. Over the last few years I’ve tried to be more conscientious of my food’s origin, trying to buy local and frequenting farmer’s markets as often as possible. I’ve also tried my own hand at growing herbs, tomatoes, and peppers, with very little in the way of success. And it is for people like myself, with black thumbs when it comes to food plants, and others, who have neither the time, money, nor inclination to garden or who have few choices when it comes to fresh produce, that urban agriculture is a boon. csashare

Working with KCCUA, I have learned more about this growing facet of food production. Whether the gardens are you pick operations, sell through farmer’s markets, sell to restaurants, or give their produce to food pantries, urban farmers provide a wide variety of options in areas that are often quite far from any food production. Reading the various farmer profiles, it struck me how often children and/or education is key to these farms. Not only do youth help on some farms, but the farms reconnect them to food — to the realization that peaches come from trees not tins and carrots grow underground. That feels the most heartening, not only because it is positive for the youths but also because it just may be very positive for society and for the planet.

In the present economy, it seems impossible that urban ag will do anything but grow, especially as it gets more publicity and has a growing support network, like that given by KCCUA. So, while I enjoy my CSA produce this spring, I’ll do so with a greater knowledge of local, small farmers, and with the knowledge that others in more urban areas will have the same opportunity.

~ Mary Beth

Photo credit



Better Eating through Sustainability by marybethw

earthapple What does it mean to live sustainably? When it comes to food, many often only think of production — was this lettuce grown organically? how far did it travel to get to my kitchen? With the growth of such food venues as farmers markets and CSAs, more people now have more access to sustainable options than in the recent past. (I put it like that since, not so long ago, when humans lived closer to the land and we didn’t rely on “better [eating] through chemistry,” sustainably produced food was more often the norm.)

While food production is an important aspect, it is also important to keep in mind the other aspects of maintaining a sustainable lifestyle in today’s society. For example, even if that onion was farmed organically by a farmer, say, 20 miles from you, what was it’s environmental impact? True, produce grown under the above conditions do not have the same impact as produce grown across the country (even if grown organically). The impact is even worse when you turn to meat production. The true cost might shock you.

Judy Wicks points out that another important facet of living sustainably is the human facet. Did the workers/producers get fair, living wage for their product? Or were they treated little better than drones? As Wicks points out, looking for products that have been fair trade certified helps create a strong and stable community.

By this point, you may be thinking, “My god! I’m hungry! I just want to eat!” And it is true that, with so much to think about, organic, sustainable, fair trade, humane, etc, it may seem just too daunting; it’s much easier to not think about our meal’s pedigree. But, our current, mainstream food lifestyle is not sustainable and we are already feeling the impact (e.g. global warming, health problems, etc). So, while it may be easier to close our eyes now, it will only be harder to explain to the next generation why we did not try to better their environment, why you just had to have that out of season, conventionally grown kiwi.

~Mary Beth

Image from: worldwatch.org



Green Acres is the Place to Be by travisjbrown

I have a new hero. Granted, I’ve added him to my list of 18.5 other heroes, but he has inspired me nonetheless. Reader, meet Daniel Dermitzel.

Daniel Dermitzel – associate director of Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture

After a stint in broadcast journalism and a bit of world traveling, Dermitzel decided he was tired of reporting on how the world was changing. He decided to start doing his part to change the world. Dermitzel became a part of the David that is battling the Goliath that is giant multinational food corporations.

He started at Trailside Farm, an organic vegetable farm in Calhoun, Mo. Dermitzel had no previous experience in farming, but he stuck with it and taught himself. Years later, he co-founded Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture (KCCUA), where he is now the associate director.

Demitzel and his organization grow things. They grow a lot of things– especially considering it is all done on a 2-acre farm. They have grown about 40 different vegetables and numerous herbs. The KCCUA sells most of their produce through a community-supported agriculture program (CSA). CSA members pay a fee and in return they receive weekly bundles of vegetables and herbs for 21 weeks. The KCCUA also sells their produce at local farmers’ markets. But the KCCUA doesn’t just grow- they teach the gospel of sustainability, they spread the word of urban agriculture! KCCUA has multiple programs that reach out to the community and promote community farming and sustainability.

I got a chance to participate in the inner-workings of KCCUA. It was a particularly cold day and the farmers were getting ready for an evening freeze. I, a mere visitor on a field trip, was enlisted to help. I got dirty, I got sweaty, and I nearly ruined my kicks. But it was a grand old time. I got was able to bond with the soil and some of the people who grow the food. I saw, smelt and felt how absolutely natural of an environment that this food was growing in. I now have a new appreciation for organic food and the work that these farmers put into feeding their community.

Now, I realize that if I buy a Dole organic banana, I can go online and see the farm from whence it came. Whoopdeedoo. That doesn’t compare to actually seeing, smelling, and laboring on the land where your food was created.

So I have a proposal for you, reader.

Visit a local farm. You can log on to SustainableTable.org and find the farms nearest you. It’ll be a dandy experience and you’ll be surprised how much it’ll make you want to bite into nothing buy fresh, organic creations of the earth for the rest of your life

And if you aren’t or aren’t able to go to a farmers market. If you don’t care to see where your veggies come from, you should at least meet the people who grew your food.

-Travis Brown