Urban Agriculture: Old-School Urban Farmers and Young, Beginning Gardeners Both Play a Part

Although urban agriculture is often considered a new movement fueled by young, hip and even just-beginning gardeners, old-school urban farmers still play a vital role. One tried-and-true urban farmer in Kansas City, Kan., uses his experience growing up on a family farm to cultivate enthusiasm for gardening in his community.

| August 5, 2013

Urban Farmer Frank Lavender

Urban farmer Mr. Lavender shares how food was once grown in Wyandotte County to feed the metro area. Many older farmers form the backbone of the urban agriculture movement in their communities, showing the way for up-and-coming beginning gardeners.

Photo by Katherine Kelly

Reposted with permission from Cultivate Kansas City

If you read about urban agriculture and local food in the media, the picture you sometimes get is that everything seems to be happening because of hip young people who are tattooed, dreadlocked, on fire about saving our cities, creating social change, and rocking the food revolution. I’m glad for growers like these because they are some of the leaders in our urban agriculture movement and they really do shake up the ways we think about our cities and what we eat and how we grow it. I’m also glad though, for the urban growers who maybe get less media attention but carry inside them the history of urban agriculture.

Over the last few months, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in some of the older neighborhoods of Kansas City, Kan. We’re working on a water initiative and we are out promoting the H2O to Grow Fund. Along the way, there are a couple of people I’ve met for the first time and some I’ve reconnected with who reminded me of the history of urban agriculture and of the small urban agricultural renaissances happening in some of our city’s oldest neighborhoods.

I recently visited Frank Lavender, a person who had been described to me as an “old-school farmer.” Mr. Lavender, who is just in his late 60s, so not so very old, has some deep knowledge and experience of how food was grown in Wyandotte County to feed the metro area.

He grew up in Edwardsville, Kan., a community just outside U.S. Interstate I-435, a town that today has a semi-rural feeling to it but that is very much part of the metro area. His family, headed by his mother, had 5 acres of land where they grew and raised almost all of their food. They had vegetables, fruit, hogs and chickens that they cooked, canned, smoked, salted, sugar-cured and processed to feed themselves.

Because of his experience working on his family’s garden, he was often employed in his teens by the many vegetable and fruit farms that used to populate Wyandotte County. He harvested, loaded and helped get the produce to City Market, to the A & P warehouse, and to other buyers.

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