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



Benefits of Local and Organic for the Community by brennad87

 

KCCUA: A place where all Americans are brought to the field and the table

KCCUA is like the Thanksgiving table: a place where all Kansas City residents can come together

There is nothing more American than Thanksgiving when Americans of all colors and religions gather around dinners symbolizing the first Thanksgiving. On that historic day, Pilgrims and Indians broke bread at the same rough-hewn table.  The table, however, was not where they first interacted. They first worked together in the fields. The story goes that Squanto reached out to the starving newcomers. His people taught the pilgrims how to grow squash and corn and beans; how to survive in a harsh land. The two groups were probably suspicious at first, but over wet earth and hoes, over back-aches and beanpoles, they came together in this act of making life-sustaining food.

Our quintessential American holiday is still about harvest and community, about sharing food and growing it together. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of America still had that spirit? But these days, big business strips the caring and interaction from food production.

Not so at the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture. In my visits to the center, I watched diverse Kansas City residents interact with each other at all levels of food production. I saw a six-year-old help with planting. I saw mother and son lend a hand in washing vegetables, and I saw customers visit KCCUA’s market stall on a bright Saturday morning. Community and food production are one and the same at KCCUA, just like at Plymouth Plantation.

KCCUA doesn’t exist off of the grid in a hippy land. Instead, it is a successful part of the local economy: providing stable jobs and adding to community wealth and self-reliance. As a small, independent business, KCCUA exemplifies an American ideal. Moreover, KCCUA promotes vitality and interaction within the Kansas City community through farmer’s apprenticeship programs and community events.

“At its heart, our movement for local living economies is about love,” wrote Judy Wicks, author of Good Morning, Beautiful Business. “Business has been corrupted as an instrument of greed rather than used to serve the public good. You know that business is beautiful when we put our creativity, care and energy into producing products and services our community needs.”

The farmers at KCCUA make it their business to foster and feed the Kansas City community, bringing together people as diverse as those who gathered at the first Thanksgiving table. In that act, the farm exemplifies the true culture of America. 

— Brenna Daldorph, group 3

Image courtesy of http://fragranceoftruth.wordpress.com



how much responsibility should your coffee shop have? by jessicasb

Every time I walk into my favorite coffee shop downtown, I am greeted with a tiny sign explaining why it uses polystyrene cups.

Expanded polystyrene is mostly just air, it says, and is recyclable. A few months ago, another favorite coffee shop of mine made the switch from paper cups to polystyrene cups. This shop has even adopted the same friendly sign that reminds customers that no, polystyrene is nothing to be afraid of.

But polystyrene — a.k.a. styrofoam — is more harmful than that. It isn’t biodegradable at all and it’s tough to find polystyrene recyclers

It’s easy to understand why polystyrene is a popular material for businesses — it’s cheap (no additional cup sleeves) and does the trick (keeps hot drinks hot, cold drinks cold).

Santa Cruz County in California banned polystyrene products last year because of waste problems. Should every city — or green-minded coffee shop — be as proactive against this material?

I’ve tried to offset the use of polystyrene by my favorite coffee shops by bringing my own mug (I’ve never been to a cafe that didn’t give a discount for this!), or keeping any polystyrene cup I get coffee in and reusing it once or twice.

It isn’t just that my favorite coffee shops use polystyrene, though — it’s the fact that they try to defend it by making it seem harmless.

Does your favorite coffee shop use polystyrene cups? Or would you refuse to buy drinks there, at least when you’re on the go, if they did? And why do some businesses even try to still defend polystyrene?

— Jessica Sain-Baird

Thanks to kwanie for the picture.