Start an Annual ‘Farmers and Friends’ Meeting

Reader Contribution by Toby Grotz
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Organizing for the Future: Taking the Land Back and Feeding Ourselves

An annual event in Kansas City brings urban and suburban farmers together with their customers. Customers, are, like Wes Jackson likes to say, “eaters.” We’re all eaters and a Saturday morning pie fest and lunch potluck in early January is a great way to reinvigorate and plan for the spring planting.

For the last several years the Cultivate KC Annual Farmers and Friends Meeting has been held at The Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City. You can organize a meeting in your area. It’s a great way to meet people with your interests and to learn from experts.

Here is one way to put it together: Find a local church with a good kitchen and a basement meeting hall. Seems like most churches that have been around awhile have exactly what you will need. Coordinate with the church community outreach or environmental committee.

These are the members of the Earth Shepherds committee that oversee environmental issues for the Second Prez and facilitate the meeting and workshops. From left to right: David Branham, Dayna Peacock, Molly Hundley and Martin Orr.

The Kitchen

Part of a meeting dealing with gardening and food production is the food itself, so here’s where the kitchen comes into play.

Attendees set up their potluck dishes and the kitchen staff helps with the warmers, crock pots, supplies, and the needed utensils for the early-morning coffee and pie, which is followed by a hearty midday potluck.

Early-morning coffee, pie, muffins, and organic treats are followed by a midday feast.

The basement meeting hall is where the morning lectures were held and was filled to capacity with participants.

Dreamers and Doers

The Annual Farmers and Friends Meeting was split into two sessions: The morning session featured local Dreamers and Doers. Here is a brief review of some of the presentations.

The Mitzvah Garden KC

The Mitzvah Garden produces annual yields in excess of 10,000 pounds of produce all of which is given away to local food pantries. This garden features a 6,000-gallon rooftop rainwater storage system. All electricity used on the site comes from a photovoltaic array on the roof above the water storage tanks.

This is the traditional rain barrel concept expanded from a household gardening concept to a supply for a ½-acre garden and a ¼-acre orchard.

Antioch Urban Growers

This group is helping city folk learn to grow healthy, organic, non-GMO plants, and healthy confident people through education and community-building. Their slogan is “We are Rooting for You — Anyone can GROW!”

Niles Home for Children

Niles Home has been a safe haven for children since 1883, when Samuel Eason, an African-American bricklayer, began caring for homeless and orphaned children he found in his neighborhood near the historic 18th and Vine area of Kansas City.

Marty Kraft told me about a conversation he had with a horticultural therapist. The therapist stated that,  “The plants do the work, we just get the kids near them.” On this urban farm there are 28 organic no-till beds, pond, a small orchard, and a high tunnel for tomatoes.

Marty Kraft explaining gardeningfor at risk kids in Kansas City. He teaches kids to garden so they can feed themselves.

Crops at the Niles Home

Dreamers and Doers Session

Dre Taylor Nile Valley Aquaponics: Meet Dre Taylor, the 35-year-old Kansas City native who is making history. Taylor is an urban farmer who started east Kansas City’s first aquaponics greenhouse — a natural farming system that grows fish and plants, together — and will be one of the only commercial producing greenhouses of its kind in Kansas City.

From left: Sam Davis Site Manager, Juniper Gardens; Mohamed Abdul Qaadir, 100,000 Pound Food Project; Dre Taylor, Manager, 100,000 Pound Food Project; Eric Person, Ivanhoe Market Manager.

The Nile Valley Aquaponics 100,000 Pound Food Project is located on 29th and Wabash Ave. “You would never think to see this area joined with something of this type but its happening, sometimes you just have to do it,” Taylor said. The aquaponics system combines aquaculture and hydroponics, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem where famers can capitalize on a natural process for “raising fish and vegetables,” as Taylor describes the process.

The 100,000 pounds in the project’s name is a yearly output of fresh fish, vegetables, fruit and more. This will immediately serve the heart of food-deficient zip codes, providing free healthy food for the surrounding community.

Dre is a founder of the Males to Men organization and he wants to “Teach my boys how to grow food.” Here they are digging a hole in the ground 6 feet deep, which is the trench for the  aquaponics system.

Northeast Farmer’s Market

When it opened in June, 2015, founder Jenna Wilkens told the Pitch, “We’re trying to be a spot where hundreds of people in the neighborhood can gather and buy healthy foods in a really positive environment.” Jenna and here volunteers  did some Indigogo crowd funding, and partnered with a church and a local 501(c)3 to start this market.

The NorthEast Farmer’s Market pictured above connects another neighborhood to a vibrant urban agriculture scene in Kansas City.

The Afternoon Breakout Sessions

The breakout sessions began with the Ben Kjelshus “Grow the Circle” Award.

This recognition began in 2014 and is presented to an individual, business or organization which demonstrates leadership in:

1. Responsible environmental and social practices

2. High-quality food products and services

3. Positive economic impact

4. Commitment to building a robust local food system and community

This year, the award was presented to Dan Heryer and Brook Salvaggio. Brook initiated The Kansas City Backyard Chicken Rebellion several years ago that actually led to changes in policy being initiated by the city council. (We Won!)

Brook and Dan ran the Friday evening Bad Seed Farmers Market in the downtown food desert known as the Arts District of Kansas City. Bad Seed has now closed, but these urban farmers are hard at work at a new location on their Urbanvore Farm.

Emily Akins from Cultivate Kansas City presents the Grow the Circle Award to Dan and Brook as from left: Katherine Kelly, Executive Director of Cultivate Kansas City, and volunteers Joel Wakham and Janet Moss join in on the congratulations.

Session 2 Lectures

The afternoon lectures included how to as well as food policy issues such as the following:

Snow and Grow: Tales from a Year-Round Vegetable Farmer and Farm Design Engineer

Funding the Farm: Raising Capital for Your Food Business

Aquaponics Future of Farming

Stages of Growth in your Food System Project

Schoolyard Gardens 101

Agricultural and Food Policy at the Federal and State Level

The full schedule of events can be viewed here.

So that’s it Folks. Get out and get organized. Now that the crops are in, you’ve got 7 months to plan yourAnnual Farmers and Friends Meeting.

Historical Post Script

If you’re asking, like I did, “what happened to the First Presbyterian Church?” here is the answer:

The AFFM meeting held was in Missouri, just across the state line from Kansas. Missouri was a slave state (Kansas was a free state). The parishioners of the First Prez were pro-slavery. After the Civil War, the Abolitionists who were Presbyterian got together to form another church and decided to name it the Second Presbyterian Church to distinguish themselves from the 1st Prez. We in Kansas City live, like many urban dwellers, in a city still impacted by our history.

Toby Grotz is an electrical engineer who has been involved on both sides of the energy equation: exploring for oil and gas and geothermal resources and in the utility industry working in coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. He has been a community garden advocate and organizer ever since. Recent projects include lecturing for the Food Not Lawns classes sponsored by the University of Missouri, Kansas City Communiversity. He is a member of the Sierra Club and past officer of the Kanza Group. Read all of Toby’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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