The organization’s mission is to inspire low-income households, community groups, and schools in Kansas City to grow their own vegetables and fruit, and they’ve developed a variety of programs to support this work.
Their Schoolyard Garden program brings hands-on learning to nearly 220 Kansas City schools, annually. During the school year, KCCG’s staff helps students and teachers plant, harvest, and prepare seasonal produce, grown on the school grounds. They offer dozens of recipes on their website for teachers to try in the classroom, and they work to incorporate fresh produce into the cafeteria as well. Schoolyard Garden experiences may be complemented with a field trip to the Beanstalk Children’s Garden at KCCG’s headquarters. There, students are invited to see, touch, smell and taste hundreds of varieties of edible plants as they’re guided through STEM-based lessons on nutrition and the environment.
One thing that differentiates KCCG’s community operations from that of other gardening groups is the sheer scale of Individual and Family Gardens they support, and they services they offer to each. To prepare individuals for a rewarding garden experience, KCCG provides training and seeds to their members, and they’ll even till a person’s backyard to make sure they’re successful.
Director of Development, Jennifer Fink, says that affordability has also been key in designing their gardening programs, noting, “With a $2 fee, people get 10 packs of seeds, a 10-pound bag of fertilizer, and then membership pricing on additional packs of seedlings.”
Fink says it’s also important that their programs are accessible to all, so when the pandemic hit, the KCCG team worked overtime to keep operations running smoothly. “In the early day of the pandemic, we had members calling us going – please say that you’re considered essential and that you get to stay open because we need our gardens. We’re depending on them this year,” said Fink.
With evident need, the KCCG team devised a plan to distribute plants, seeds and supplies through walk-up order windows, and they implemented a carhop-style service in the parking lot on peak sale days. The community response was huge. “During the first days of our summer plant sales, members lined up around the block and waited in line for up to three hours to pick up tomato and pepper plants,” said Fink.
The pandemic has created more than just a surge in demand though; it’s also led to an increase in volunteers’ serving their community. This trend was especially strong among Kansas City’s school gardeners. “Nearly 100 of KCCG’s school gardens planted seeds during the 2020 season, despite the fact that buildings were closed down. One school donated food to the custodial and administrative staff while others gave bags of food to neighbors and kids,” said Fink.
During these months of social-distancing, Fink has also seen the emergence of many new gardeners – “Families who were staying at home or people who started working from home who said, you know, this is the year we’re going to try this out!” This new enthusiasm, combined with seasoned gardeners’ participation, created impressive results for KCCG with their network of gardeners growing more than 1,026,200 pounds of food and serving 37,000+ households by the end of 2020.
“It’s been inspiring, watching these neighborhood volunteers and teachers step up and do some really amazing things this year – it’s been a silver lining. 2020 has been challenging in so many ways, and yet, it was an exceptional year for gardening,” said Fink in December.
In the future, KCCG has plans to continue expanding. This will help them serve the growing wave of interest in home gardening and ensure that individuals from all reaches of Kansas City will have greater access to the fresh, nutritious food they need to keep themselves, and their families, healthy.