24 June 2013

Urban Grown Farms and Gardens Tour - 2013

Switzer Neighborhood Farm
This year marks the 5th biennial urban farms and gardens tour, hosted by Cultivate KC, and the urban growth (pun intended) this city has seen is nothing short of amazing. In 2005 when the tour began, there were 6 farms on the tour and 300 people who attended the whole tour. Every tour since has seen an exponential increase in both attendees and farm sites on the tour. This event now boasts 60 sites and has spanned to cover two days; the small number 300 is more likely to describe the number of attendees in one day at one farm. By now the tour has reached the status of The Largest Urban Farm Tour in the nation. 

All of which means, this city has a lot of food growing in a lot of unexpected and important places. 

chard on the westside

Urban farming - popular enough now to merit its own magazine - is more than just the trendy thing to do. This movement goes beyond the offbeat juxtapositions: the dilapidated buildings next to lush raised beds of kale, rusted art and radishes, municipal chickens and downtown ducks. This is about growing food in precisely the spots where people are everyday. This is about revitalizing wasted land and making it livable, beautiful, and productive. This is about knowing where your food comes from and seeing it for yourself, whether you're a little kid, a grown woman, an old man. For some of these sites, this is about serving the underserved, about communities pulling together to take care of themselves, and about volunteers working to feed others. Whether a site is an oasis in a food desert or growing the freshest food right outside the restaurant kitchen, this tour is about "cultivating change." 

When I volunteered four years ago, I hurried all over town to help and see as much as I could in one day, but I could only make it to 5 farm sites. And that was before I had kids. So this year I was pretty proud when - over the course of 2 days, while Sergio was unavailable, with both girls in tow, stopping for potty breaks and diaper changes and breastfeeding - I made it to 5 farms again! Of course, that leaves 55 farms I wanted to see but couldn't. I'm not complaining, though. Too many urban farms and gardens is a great problem to have.

The Five Sites I Saw on My Tour

The first stop on my tour was Hoop Dog Studio on Troost. Almost every morning we take Troost to take Julia to school, so I had noticed this place with its turquoise doors, its ransom-note like "Obama" made of old neon sign letters, its particular tall bird on the side of the building. But I never would have imagined that inside is an intricate maze of hydroponics, livestock, vegetables, flowers, and discarded materials turned into art. While you may need to steer your toddler clear of the rusted nails emerging from the rail road ties or the shards of (intentional) broken pottery, you will come away in awe of the majestic mess of growth and life - vegetables, fish and flowers - coming out of urban castoffs - rebar, upturned muffin tins, oxytetracyclinehydrochloride barrels. Maybe that "skelebird" on the side of the building is supposed to be a phoenix. 

Hoop Dog Studio on Troost 
Julia and Skelebird
Crown Garden
In the summer of 2010, I was an insignificant member of a small team of people helping to make plans to start an urban garden - to be maintained by volunteers at Hallmark - at the Ronald McDonald house right across the street. That summer the idea was just a seed. I went off to have a couple of babies over the next two years and then next thing I know - voila! The garden is going so strong that they are on the Urban Grown tour. There are some incredible master gardeners and volunteers at Hallmark who have contributed their time to this farm's success. And all the produce grown (organically, by the way) in the Crown Garden goes to the families and patients staying at the Ronald McDonald house. Which seems to me like such a really nice thing to do for people you don't even know.

Hallmark's Crown Garden
Julia's and my favorite. 

The Beanstalk Garden has a little bit of everything - several varieties of fruits, lots of vegetables, flowers, herbs and a fountain. I'm not sure if the water feature is meant to be toddler entertainment, but it sure was for us after a long hot day of touring. Jasper and Julia went wild with the water while we sat under the grapevines and fed the babies and imagined what we might grow in our own gardens even though we are not the skilled master gardeners who run these places - nevermind that. Seeing it all blossoming and blooming and making fruit makes you think - surely I could do this, too! And the truth is, with the help of KC Community Gardens, you probably could!

Beanstalk Children's Garden - and fountain
Pretty please with a cherry on top?
Herb'n Gardener
I wanted to stop in at Lew Edmister's place because Julia and I see Lew every Friday night at Badseed (for that same reason, I wanted to go to Urbavore, too, we just couldn't get there). I thought it'd be fun to see what he's growing so maybe Julia can put two and two together when she sees him at market. Lew also makes bread and - for that matter - made his own bread oven! "Fire!" said Julia, when she saw Lew checking the flames inside. While Lew got his dough ready for a demo, Julia and I ate mustard greens from the field and tried to keep Clara from eating the mulch. Lew brought us some nasturtiums to eat; Julia would have none of it, though she liked eating the little yellow mustard green flowers.

Clara at Herb'n Gardener 
Julia and the mustard greens

Switzer Neighborhood Farm
From Lew's I thought I'd head to the Westside Local to see some vertical gardening by Anti-Hero Landscaping, but I got sidetracked on the way when I passed what looks like a giant hole in the ground full of an urban farm. Chickens, ducks, geese, bees and butterflies; vegetables, flowers, and herbs. This place was literally a dumping ground for a long time before, 3 years ago, some folks in the Westside Community Action Network came along to clean it up. It's amazing and lush and complex and gritty and the kale in that raised bed was the heartiest I've seen. (And I have seen a lot of kale.) Julia loved the livestock and watched with rapt attention as the chickens responded to our "cock-a-doodle-doos!" and "kiki-ri-kees!" This neighborhood has really embraced this bit of blight and brought it back to life.

Switzer Neighborhood Farm
in the shadow of the abandoned Switzer school

Julia and the chickens

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