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



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



Building a Community, Educating the Future by marybethw

We constantly hear that youth are our future, but what will that future look like with the ever-increasing disconnect between our food and ourselves? A number of local, urban farmers are fighting that future, by providing youth an opportunity to relearn our food. During the summer you’ll find youth working the fields, rows, and greenhouse at J-14 Agricultural Enterprises, Troostwood Youth Garden, and Kurlbaum’s Heirloom Tomatoes.

At all three establishments, the education does not just happen while digging the soil. Joe Jennings, at J-14, has a rainy day “classroom” where youth can learn widely about biology, ecology, and botany. At Troostwood, Ericka Wright’s workers receive stipends for school materials and some have continued the lessons learned in the garden while in college. The Kurlbaum’s have used their tomato profits to put one of their children through school and they have plans to start scholarship gardens, the profits from which would go towards college tuition.

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By working, whether as volunteers or as a summer job, both the youth and the community benefit from these operations. Studies show that youth reap many positive benefits from volunteering. The communities also reap benefits from urban farms. In providing fresh produce the farms provide health benefits and the local economy receives a boost when food dollars stay in the community.

With these and other urban farms, perhaps our food future is not as bleak. The youth who work these farms know where their food comes from, what’s in it, and how tasty it is. Perhaps they can then spread their knowledge; as Troostwood’s Wright says, “Out of the mouths of babes….”

~ Mary Beth Woodson, Group 4 blog post

Youth volunteers photo credit.



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.



Location, Location, Location by marybethw

Farming no longer has to be about fields and barns. Right in middle of an urban district, on a plot of land next to a storefront or parking lot, an urban garden can sprout and bring a new source of food and sense of community. The saying in real-estate is location, location, location, but urban agriculture ignores such advice and finds a way to flourish. 3458926655_210dc3dfcf1

Suburban
Deep in the suburbs, urban farmers have an opportunity to grow vegetable inside and transfer them to their yards when the seedlings are ready. Suburban homes are typically bigger and easier to climate control. Any room in the house, even the basement, can be turned into a grow area with some inexpensive grow lamps and tables. That’s how Liz and Sky Kurlbaum — of Kurlbaum’s Heirloom Tomatoes — operate their business. In their basement, right next to their washer and dryer, the Kurlbaums have traded in a table to fold their clothes on, for a make-shift greenhouse that supports thousands of seedlings. If suburban farmers are worried about the electric bill, it’s possible to start seeds in small, starter containers available at any garden store.

Rural
Right outside the city is also an ideal location to start an urban farm. For starters, land tends to be less expensive and more acreage tends to be available, not to mention more manageable. On a small farm about 15 minutes from downtown Kansas City, Joe Jennings of J-14 Agricultural Enterprises grows a wide variety of veggies as well as some fruit using about 8 acres. Because of the space available, Joe is even able to occasionally raise select livestock to complement his produce such as pigs.

Urban
Urban agriculture has previously had to fight to overcome the image that farming is something that has to be done in the country and brought into the city. Even a vacant lot, entirely surrounded by concrete can make the perfect urban farm. The Troostwood Youth Garden, located on Paseo Boulevard, fits this description precisely: It’s situated on a traffic-jammed street between houses and the occasional gas station. A major advantage (but disadvantage to the neighborhood) is that the Troostwood Youth Garden has very few produce competitors. Urban neighborhoods lacking grocery stores or farmers market sincerely reap the benefits of such a community center that promotes healthy eating. Neighboring Rockhurts university realised this and has supported the garden since its germination in 1999.

~ Bryan Dykman, Group 4 blog post

Urban corn photo credit.



How farm aid can help the environment by bryand09
May 1, 2009, 3:41 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , ,

I’m not going to lie: sometimes it’s hard to keep a little optimism when it comes environmentalism — really hard. Try watching Flow or Earthlings and then go try to enjoy yourself. It’s best to call it a night immediately, even if you caught the matinee performance. And like those documentaries as they approach the credits (or in Al Gore’s case are the credits), I see some hope for the future based on what I’ve learned about in KCCUA.

Somtimes a spare tire is all we have or need. Urban agriculutre mixes urban life with resourceful farming practices.

Sometimes a spare tire is all we have or need. Urban agriculture mixes urban life with resourceful farming practices.

We eat food on a daily basis but we don’t think about food daily. It’s only when we are unhappy with our image or startled after a close-call with our health that we talk about diets, and then, most of us are still talking about soda.

But urban agriculture can reverse this trend. Urban agriculture can get us interested in growing things in our windowsills or in plots of undeveloped land cushioned between parking lots and storefronts. Even renters in small apartments can grow plants things from eggplants to cherry tomatoes from their bedroom balcony.

Urban agriculture can help us if we are worried about our health or rising food prices. It can even lead to promising business and economic opportunities if we are worried about the lightness of our wallets. These days, it’s difficult to rely on the stock-market, so why not invest now in the soil in our own back yards?

As environmentalists and journalists we have such a hard time getting people to read and consider the truth. No one wants to hear about real energy solutions only light-bulbs and other “feelgoods.” What if we stopped trying to introduce people to the movement via the TV and instead handed them a spade and a few Fourth of July tomato seeds?

—Bryan Dykman



Defining Food by meganr21
May 1, 2009, 2:44 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , , , ,
Field Equipment Operations Class

Field Equipment Operations Class

Growing up in Los Angeles my definition of a farm came from a field trip I took in first grade –we drove out of the city to visit cows and see corn grow. This interaction led me to believe that food isn’t grown in the city and except for the occasional garden. After high school I went to an Ag school where I learned how to drive a tractor and plow a field. Classes like this did nothing but reinforce my previous idea of what agriculture in the United States is.

Working with KCCUA, Cross-Lines and Drumm Farm has thrown me for a loop, my definition of food and agriculture has been re-defined many times this semester. I’ve learned that food can be successfully grown within city limits and farms have many roles in the community. Urban agriculture can provide health and nutrition, combat poverty, and educate children. Unbeknownst to many people agriculture exists in our own backyard and it is thriving.

The banana tree in our front yard.

The banana tree in our front yard.

 Food has always played a huge role in my life, but KCCUA has helped give that food a face. It’s not just something from the grocery store anymore, food is grown by real people. I’ll shortly be leaving Kansas to move back to California and hope to embolden my friends and neighbors to support local produce and grow their own. My parents have already begun to grow tomatoes, herbs, nopales (prickly pear cactus), lemons, strawberries, even bananas. I can’t wait to try it all. 

 

-Megan Richards