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

KCCUA: Nourishing the American Body and Soul by brennad87

There is an entire series of books entitled Chicken Soup for the Soul and it is true that food has the power to nourish more than just our bodies. Food often brings a community together—over PTA suppers or ice cream socials, in the making of a regional dish or in the celebration of a local harvest. But these days, Americans

Evangeline, daughter of KCCUA's farm manager Alicia, watches over her stomping ground from the top of the hay bales.

Evangeline, daughter of KCCUA's farm manager Alicia, watches over her stomping ground from the top of the hay bales.

often miss out on that type of nourishment. It was food writer Michael Pollan who alerted me to the lack of a food culture in America—an epidemic so severe he called it our national eating disorder. Harassed and harried, Americans are more likely than ever to rush through a drive-thru or pick up a frozen entrée. There is no nourishment in this act- it causes a hunger not just for the body, but too for the soul.

But at Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture, both the body and soul are nourished: the production of food and the fostering of community are at the core of business. I visited the farm three times throughout the semester and saw this flowering of community each time. This business takes pride in what they produce. They involve people at every level of production. I saw interactions between people of all ages and backgrounds. In the greenhouse, a Hmong

The greenhouses at KCCUA are full of interesting people and budding, green plants.

The greenhouses at KCCUA are full of interesting people and budding, green plants.

refugee watered her emerald-green buds next to two inner city teenagers. The day before market day, an elderly African-American man who looked as old and as wise as time washed red radishes in icy cold water while 6-year-old Evangeline Ellingsworth, the daughter of the farm manager, played at his feet. Everyone was sharing stories and smiles… and working together in the production of food. In these interactions, I saw hope for a food culture of America. That hope danced in my heart and on my tongue as I tasted the spicy watercress that was given to me on my first visit. I took a bite and realized it was just too good not to share.

-Brenna Daldorph

Flogging a Dead Horse Raddish by acbowman
March 11, 2008, 9:33 am
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , , , ,

There has been a number of posts on our blog suggesting that the answer to the environmental impact is eating local and vegetarianism.

I don’t buy it. The solution is getting rid of corporate farming in favor of sustainable farming techniques.


Let’s deal with vegecrazyism (like the guy above) first. Vegetarians argue that it takes more land to grow meat. Land that could grow far more vegetables and grains for human consumption. Yet, we already grow enough food to feed everybody on the planet. The problems with hunger are more economic and political reasons rather than food shortages. Vegetables (with the exception of avocados) and grains are already at bargain prices. If there is a flood in the market because all agricultural land is converted to crops for human consumption, prices would drop. This would cause an economic drought on the family farms we have left and their already tiny incomes would dry up and blow away.

An argument brought up in the poorly researched Vegetarianism is the New Prius (all of her sources were from practically the same place) says that meat production also degrades biodiversity. What? That doesn’t make any sense. If you are growing vegetables for human consumption, you cant grow native species grasses. Cows can feed on native species grasses. By keeping the native grasses, all the other critters that are part of that ecosystem remain in the ecosystem. How would growing vegetables maintain biodiversity?

Some vegetarians argue that people would be healthier with an all veggie diet. There is no conclusive evidence of this. Doctors have found evidence for and against vegetarianism. (If you’ll notice in the two linked articles, the pro-meat argument is far more researched than the pro veg one.) Then there is the argument that human beings didn’t evolve eating meat. Poppycock. What do you think all the animal bones in prehistoric caves were from, a Neanderthal veterinarian clinic?

Further, a discussion that doesn’t seem to take place when talking about the environmental impact of beef, is all the other products we get from cattle. It’s not just food people. So rather than waste all that tasty meat, why not eat it.

Then there is the local movement. Buying local seems like a no brainer when it comes to fighting our eco footprint. But there are some problems in the local food movement.

Not all farmers live near municipalities large enough to sustain their farms. And not all municipalities are located near enough farms to feed their entire population locally. There definitely seems to be agreement that family farms are a good thing. So how do you keep family farms from dying if they are looked down upon for not living closer to a city?

If small farmers are only operating on a local level, there are some economic hurdles to overcome. Local burger is a fantastic restaurant, but their prices are not for the average college student. Or for the average small town family. If a farmer is trying to sell his local goods to a tiny town, chances are they are not able to pay the prices that the farmer needs to remain economically sustainable. By having a world wide market for agriculture, there is a set price for certain goods. This ensures that farmers get paid roughly the same.

I just called my Uncle Larry to get his thoughts n this idea. He is a wheat farmer about 20 miles from Concordia. He says there are two main factors that would hurt farmers in a local food market. One is volume. Most farmers grow far more food than they could sell to a town of roughly 5,500 people. He is primarily a wheat farmer. Right now wheat is double what the price of it was last year. Part of that is the terrible wheat year in Australia and South America. By having the global market, countries can save each other from drought years. What if cities were set up for local food only, and another dust bowl happens. What are people going to eat then?

Traditional Old Farmers

The other problem is man power. Larry said that in the olds days, there would be 8 farms to a section. Now there is a farm every 6 sections. Since one farm is bigger than it had been, if he wanted to diversify and turn his wheat farm into what he called a “truck” farm, meaning growing a variety of things for public sale, it would take a ton of manpower. Most small mid-western towns don’t have that man power anymore.

I am not making the argument that people should only buy food from china, far from it. I would encourage you to buy local when you can. But recognize that local isn’t a reality that is going to solve our food transportation problems.

As for vegetarianism, well… I have no problem with people eating veggies. But again, the world going vegetarian isn’t a real approach to solving anything.

The emphasis should be sustainable farming practices. True, right now there is no way around the oil dependency, but it will come. What we can do is protect our land, our water, and our ecosystems through smart sustainable agriculture. And keep working on alternative fuel sources.


♫ I would walk 500 miles…for food? by shemme

Ok, not everyone is like Craig and Charlie Reid from The Proclaimers. Remember them?

When I wake up, well I know I’m gonna be,
I’m gonna be the man who wakes up next to you.
When I go out, yeah I know I’m gonna be,
gonna be the man who goes along with you.

Here’s when I just hum along and sip a choice beverage until I can yell at the top of my lungs…

But I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door.

Yeah, if you looked like these two, you’d probably have to walk 500 miles and then 500 more to convince a girl to go out with you, too. I think they’re cute – but I’m one of those “weird” girls.

Craig & Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers

Craig and Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers
Photo: © 2003 Persevere Records

Ok, so not all of us are willing to walk the first 500 miles for love, so let’s just start with 100 for our food. According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture and the Worldwatch Institute, the average American meal typically contains food that has traveled 1,500 to 2,500 miles or more before being eaten. Even those of you who have diligently gone organic often buy food products that come from as far away as Argentina and Austria. These well-traveled ingredients consume tons of petroleum products, like gas and oil for the boat, plane and delivery truck, as well as emit tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Other foods are chemically treated, fertilized, sprayed, genetically altered, exploit migrant farm workers and pad the wallets of giant international corporations. Don’t like it? Make different choices and remove yourself from the mass market equation.

What about my health? According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, most exposure to toxic chemicals that cause human diseases, including cancer and Parkinson’s, comes from the food that we choose to eat. Children are especially vulnerable to chemicals found in food, many of which can result in learning and behavioral disabilities.

Knowing where your food comes from and whether it has been raised without pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, genetic modifications, or treated with irradiation, preservatives, covered in wax or gassed to encourage ripening during shipment is important for protecting your own health and the health of your family.

In 2005, a young couple in Canada, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, confronted their own food choices, their impact on the world and started what is now known as the 100-Mile Diet. I know, I know – those crazy Canadians! For one year, Alisa and James bought and gathered their edibles from within 100 miles of their pad in Vancouver, British Columbia. Their detailed account of the experience can be found on their blog series online.

You don’t have to jump all-in for a year, just start small. Find someone to embark on this food challenge with you – could be your roommate, boyfriend, best friend, family member or even your dog! Pick one meal a week, an entire day, or an entire month, and eat only food and cuisine made from ingredients that came from within 100 miles of Lawrence. Don’t think it’s possible? Look around us; we’re in an ideal location. East of the student ghetto, across the river and even past Hollywood Theaters in all directions we’ve got farmers raising food. Everything from meat, vegetables, fruits, herbs, eggs, honey, baked goods and even pet products can be bought from local producers.

The easiest way to get this food on your table is to buy directly from area farmers. Don’t know any farmers? That’s OK, because there are local services like the Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance that will bring bags of fresh, pre-washed, locally grown produce to you. All you have to do is go to the pick-up site (The Merc) and grab your bag.

Yummy strawberries!

Yummy, fresh strawberries at a farmers’ market.
Photo: l&coolj

Then there is the Lawrence Farmers’ Market. Four days a week, every week from mid-April to mid-November, locally produced food is available at the market. The Merc is our neighborhood food coop and a great place to find local fresh foods with the convenience of a grocery store.

Does this mean I have to cook for myself and always eat at home? Nope. If you’re looking for good food fast, try Local Burger. They cater to the carnivores and herbivores among us with items like burgers, veggie burgers, salads, tofu fillets, soups and smoothies. They make every effort to use fresh, organic, local and sustainable ingredients.

But it’s February, what the hell am I supposed to do during the winter?

Fall vegetables, late season fruit, squash, potatoes, root vegetables, apples, meat, eggs, honey, cheese, bread, jams, pickles, other preserves, greenhouse produce, and warm season foods that have been frozen are available all winter long. It’s funny, maybe Lawrence should start having a Winter Farmers’ Market – after all, Vancouver has one and it’s been wildly successful.

If your time, money and enthusiasm for local foods is limited, here are a few to try your darnedest to get locally or organic whenever possible:

  1. Beef
  2. Milk
  3. Coffee
  4. Peaches
  5. Apples
  6. Bell Peppers
  7. Celery
  8. Strawberries
  9. Lettuces
  10. Grapes
  11. Potatoes
  12. Tomatoes

These foods “are laden with the highest amounts of pesticides, chemicals, additives and hormones” according to a recent report from MSN called Top 12 Foods to Eat Organic.

While most food will travel 1500 miles or more to get to the average commercial grocery store, it’s still up to you whether you chose to consume it or not. There’s no need to feel guilty or frustrated about what you can’t change, but there’s plenty you can do to become an aware and informed consumer.

Buy local when you can, try the 100-Mile Diet, or just pick up the top 12 organic foods listed above to reduce the impact your food choices have on the environment. Your choice to buy local keeps your cash in the local economy, fosters community connections, and secures the future of your health and well-being. It feels good too, like singing along to a catchy tune

Na na na, na na na
Na na na, na na na
Lika lika lika lika lika la
But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked 1,000 miles
To fall down at your do-o-or

~ Sarah H

Inspired by Lawrence Sustainability Network articles on food at http://www.lawrencesustainability.net/food.html

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