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. 


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

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

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.

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 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.

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

Snapshots of supper by kimwallace
March 25, 2008, 2:42 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, Society + Media | Tags: , , , ,

One thing that struck me as I was viewing different families’ weekly food consumption around the world was the lack of fruits and vegetables at the Americans’ table. Both the North Carolina and the California families displayed different colored food at each respective table, but those vibrant colors came from punchy packaging and wild ink splashed across cardboard and plastic. At tables across the globe, greens and other earth-tones showed up on the cutting board, reminiscent of diets lower on the food chain and, seemingly, less expensive on the wallet.

The time-old argument that “Americans eat junk food” almost always falls on deaf ears–we’re immune to this chastisement over and over again because these words are never personified–until now. Without the images attached to the copy, this post would have been just another chart and comparison of eating habits around the world. But, seeing the smiling faces of people with different skin color, clothing and shelter really makes you stop and think about what the food really means in a culture.

For example, look at the Japanese family. They are sprawled out on cushions on the floor, surrounded by fresh fish, steamed rice and juicy fruits. I bet their kitchen always smells good. All for $317.

Fast forward to the North Carolinians. They are seated comfortably on dining chairs with food spread about their kitchen counters and dining table. Bright bursts of red, purple, yellow and blue dominate the image–but these colors come not from delicious fruits and vegetables, but from saturated inks and dyes on paper and plastic packaging. This comes at a cost of $348–and maybe a few extra pounds.

The Mexicans look like they have it best. They have a whole table devoted to bananas, watermelons, avocados, tomatoes and other fresh goodies. I’m not sure if they’re going to turn that into delicious guac or salsa later, but the fact that it will be by their own hands instead of by a machine’s is enough to convince me to dine on some salty chips and guacamole. This, plus other goodies for a week, is earth-shatteringly cheap–$189.

This photo project definitely put how the world eats in perspective, especially for those who have never been abroad. For me, coming from an Asian-American background and having been to my mother’s home country, Vietnam, looking at this post gave me more insight to non-Asian countries as well as European countries and their eating habits. Sure, you can rely on the stereotypical “Germans eat Franks and Japanese eat sushi” food typing, but with pictures, you can see that it is so much more. I’ve always joked that if you could take a look at the different food I was raised on, as a multicultural American, you would see a t-bone steak and a bowl of rice.


What would I see from you?


You say tomato, I say death ball by travisjbrown
March 4, 2008, 4:52 pm
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , , ,

Giuseppe Arcimboldo was one of the first people who inferred that we are what we eat.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Summer, 1573, oil on canvas, Louvre Museum, Paris

Ah yes, those where the days. Aside from the famines, the plagues, the persecutions, the people of the 16th Century had it pretty easy. Plants were taken out of the ground and eaten – what more could you ask for?

I mean, look at that guy. He seems quite jovial to me. That’s because he is made of healthy, pesticide- and preservative-free vegetable freshly sprung from the earth.

If Mr. Arcimboldo were alive and working today, his art might look a little more like this:


Till Nowak, framebox.de

Dammit Travis, you need to warn me next time. I done wee’d myself.

Yes, I know . It’s quite terrifying what goes into our vegetables. Herbicides, pesticides, preservatives. These are starting to seem much less like healthy snacks and much more like high school science fair projects.

When I moved into my first house away from my parents, I decided to stay away from junk food as much as possible. I filled my refrigerator with as many vegetables as I could tolerate. Whenever I was hungry, I’d grab some raw carrots, radishes or green beans. This led to eating habits similar to that of a rabbit. My roommates often walk in to find me feasting on a bowl of roughage and refer to me as “Bugs” or “Roger.”

But now I’m learning that this doesn’t cut it. These veggies aren’t as healthy as I once thought and they don’t have all the vitamins that organic greens do. To think that I’ve been filling my body with chemicals all this time… while I thought I was just doing a body good. The Horror.

That’s just the vegetables. Think about the food that doesn’t necessarily fit into such a distinct mold. Like moon pies or even ice cream. Polydextrose, sorbitol, cellulose gel, mono and diglycerides, cellulose gum, polysorbate 80, carrageenan, sucralose.It’s all too much for me. Maybe my old buddies, the Animaniacs can help out.

Happy rotting.

-Travis Brown

♫ 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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