Developing Sustainable, Natural Farming Techniques to Implement a Farmer’s Market and Educate Underserved African American Communities

Final report for FNC16-1043

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2016: $7,428.00
Projected End Date: 01/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Food for People KC
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Obiagele Lake
Food for PeopleKC
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Problem Addressed: We focus on four problems regarding food production and the environment.
1) We teach low-income African Americans how to grow their own food. This will provide participants with the tools to acquire healthier, low-cost foods;
2) Program participants attend workshops on the nutritional value of various foods and the connection between diet and disease prevention;
3) We have developed native habitats in order to improve soil and air quality and to educate community members about the role of native plants.
4) We grow host and nectar plants for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. We view this as important because of the decline of bee and butterfly populations around the globe and their risk of extinction. Bees are especially important because they are responsible for pollinating over one-third of our food supply. Our plan is to expand our native habitat in order to increase pollinator populations.

The problem in low-income African American communities is insufficient access to pesticide-free and affordable food. Many of these residents are part of a cycle of poor health as a result of a lack of nutrition information and insufficient income to purchase healthy food. Food for PeopleKC is working to fill the gap in both of these areas. In addition, we provide information about native plants and the role they play in sequestering toxins from the environment and serving as host and nectar plants for pollinators.

Residents in these communities are also less aware of the importance of recycling and its far-reaching effects on the environment. To address this problem, we have organized workshops about recycling with the help of other Kansas City organizations working in this area. Many participants did not know what to recycle or did not have the proper recycle bins. Workshop facilitators gave oral presentations and disseminated literature to participants. The facilitators also distributed recycle bins to senior citizens and low-income participants.

In the past two years, we have recruited ten households each year to participate in the workshops. Some of these workshops are held in community meetings and others are held at the farm. Our "Growing Families" program teaches children and adults how to plant seeds and the importance of using organic seeds and seedlings. In addition, we do not use any synthetic or toxic products in the field. Food for PeopleKC has used sustainable practices before this SARE grant was awarded. We have planted seeds and seedlings without the use of herbicides or pesticides and we have incorporated plants with insecticidal properties among our food plants.

Program participants have never planted seeds before participating in this project and are excited when the first leaves start to sprout. Many of the participants do not have space to grow food where they live, thus, being able to pick vegetables that they have grown has proven to be a rewarding experience.

They have also assisted in planting and caring for native plants. A staff member from Bridging the Gap, an environmental organization in Kansas City, has facilitated a workshop that focuses on the role of native plants in sequestering toxins from the air and soil. Participants also learn about the relationship between plants and pollinators and the importance of bees in sustaining our food system.

We have been successful creating a native habitat pilot project where we have planted several native plants including New England aster, Asclepias tuberosa, swamp milkweed, Coreopsis, Missouri primrose, and goldenrod. This year we are in the planning stages of expanding our native habitat to include a larger variety of Asclepias (milkweed) plants to increase the numbers of monarch butterflies.

Summary:

WORK ACTIVITIES

We spent the months of February and March creating a program curriculum and recruiting volunteers and program participants. Recruiting participants was done by word of mouth, networking with other community organizations, creating Instagram and Facebook pages, and posting flyers around different neighborhoods. 

The Program Director is now chairing the Health and Gardening Committee of the Historic Manheim Park Association and has been effective in advocating for the acquisition of another vacant lot for that organization. The Health and Gardening committee has been facilitating development plans for this site, which include a nursery for the benefit of community members and as an additional site for planting native species. There has also been discussion about experimenting with Hugelkultur. Managing this lot will further our goal of introducing healthy foods to low-income community members and educating them about the importance of native plants and sustainable planting techniques. 

We continue to offer workshops to participants in the following areas: organic farming; nutrition; photosynthesis; native plants; pollinators, solid waste management and recycling.

RESULTS OF PROJECT AND LESSONS LEARNED SO FAR

The project is ongoing, so I am sure that we will perennially learn from our challenges and successes.

Obiagele Lake, Program Director, facilitated demonstrations on planting techniques and plant maintenance. Program participants had never planted seeds or seedlings before, so the planting workshop proved very informative. Participants planted their seeds and seedlings in raised beds and also planted melon seeds in other locations on the farm. We also offered workshops on nutrition, native plants, pollinators, and recycling.

Participants attended “Go Native,” an event sponsored by the Discovery Center in Kansas City, Missouri, where they received free tree plants and other native plants. There were also workshops where children learned about the kinds of Missouri native grasses and flowering plants. They also learned how to make “planters” out of newspaper and how to make seed balls with clay and native seeds.

Participants attended a Recycling workshop, presented by Mid-America Regional Council (MARC). They learned the importance of recycling as a way to preserve our natural resources and that methane produced in landfills contributes to harmful climate change. We also learned more about what items can be recycled and what materials needed special handling.

We administered pre and post assessments to find out what students had learned from the project. Assessment results indicated that participants gained knowledge about the benefits of pesticide-free faming, planting techniques, nutritional value of consuming fresh vegetables, and the role of pollinators in sustaining the environment.

The lessons learned by Food for PeopleKC (FFPKC) were of a different nature. Although FFPKC staff and volunteers learned valuable information from the workshops and events, we also learned about the cost of labor, materials, and equipment. While we did hire laborers for grounds preparation and maintenance, finding good workers was, and continues to be, a difficult task. The cost of hiring labor from well-established, larger companies was prohibitive, which forces small organizations like ours to hire individuals from on-line sources and face-to-face encounters. Some of these workers have been helpful in preparing the field, but others are unprepared to do the jobs for which they were hired. But we are forging ahead and are organizing a pool of reliable laborers who will be working for us in the near future.

Another problem is the nature of the funding. We appreciate the funding provided by SARE. We would not have been able to begin our project without these funds. Before we began work at Highland Farms, the area was a morass of dilapidated fencing, invasive plants, saplings, and debris that had been in the field for many years. SARE funding helped us clear 95% of the field, purchase soil, amendments, and tools. Funding also allowed us to organize educational workshops. However, our experience has taught us that receiving grant funds in installments prevents us from purchasing larger equipment or structures that are sorely needed. For example, we need a railroad storage container to use as a shed at the farm. These containers can cost $10K or more. Even the cost of a used container begins at $2000. We were not able to purchase one because of insufficient funds. We now keep our equipment in a garage not located at the farm site, which makes it cumbersome to bring tools to the field if a truck is unavailable. If one of our workers is without a truck then we have to rent one, which takes money away from other items. A metal storage container at the farm is an absolute necessity in order to minimize the likelihood of break-ins.

WORK PLAN FOR 2017

The results of our project is that we have converted derelict, abandoned properties into a vibrant landscape. This transformation has changed the look of the neighborhood, created a safer, cleaner space, and has attracted other farmers to purchase adjacent properties. 

Our work plan included retaining a portion of the urban farmers from 2016 and recruiting new participants. Participants in our Growing Families project gained knowledge and experience about growing their own food; how toxins in the environment affect our health; and the relationship between fresh food and disease prevention. 

OUTREACH

We shared news about our events and projects via Facebook, Instagram, email newsletters and face-to-face contacts.

We interface with other community organizations and farmers in order to share best practices and to stay abreast of funding and educational opportunities. In 2017 we also networked with other small farmers and reciprocated work days for our respective projects. 

We continue to network with the following organizations:

The Discovery Center offers workshops and camps that inform participants about native plants, native trees, and beneficial insects.

Bridging the Gap offers workshops on native gardens, butterfly plants, and the importance of providing habitats for bees and other pollinators. These workshops include the role of native plants in sequestering pollutants from the air and the soil.

Mid-American Regional Council has provided workshops and shared information on air and water quality, recycling and recycling resources in Kansas City, Missouri.

Urban Neighborhood Initiative (UNI) has been helpful in providing a platform for meeting other urban farmers, naturalists, and community workers in a setting where we can share ideas and successes. 

UNI has provided additional grant funds to help us expand our native habitat in 2018.

We are also in the process of developing a website in order to augment our outreach efforts. We are using WordPress to develop this site, but, once this is completed, we plan to export the content to another, more flexible site. To customize the site and give it more depth and flexibility, we will need more funding to hire a different web builder. Nevertheless, we are excited about our current site, soon to be published, because it will be our first, and because it outlines our programs, disseminates information to larger audiences; offers volunteer opportunities; and provides another funding channel.

In 2017 we also began planning the extension of our "Growing Families" project to include "Children Grow Native." We plan to work with elementary school teachers to organize programs that focus on native plants and how these plants benefit pollinators. The program includes workshops where children, ages 7-12. Children will engage in hands-on activities with plants and butterflies in order to increase their knowledge of natural ecosystems. The major emphasis in the workshops will incorporate discussions about the life cycle of butterflies. These workshops will be integrated into regular science class material. Subsequent to these classes, we will sponsor a field trip to Powell Gardens Kingsville, Missouri, the botanical garden in the region. Students will participate in the annual Butterfly Festival and be able to touch live caterpillars and walk among a vast array of live butterflies.

In 2017, we bagan a crowd funding (Seedmoney.org) campaign for this project and received sufficient funds for children's admission to Powell Gardens and amenities during the field trip.

This educational project, which we intend to make an annual event, will allow Food for PeopleKC to contact more families and educate them about native plants and pollinators. 

 

 

Echinacea at Food for PeopleKC Native Habitat. Photo: Obiagele Lake.
Metamorphosis at Highland Farms, Kansas City, Missouri. Photo: Obiagele Lake

Photo: Obiagele Lake

Courtney Masterson (Bridging the Gap) and "Growing Families" participants building a native habitat at Highland Farms. 

 

 

 

Project Objectives:

Project Objectives

Food for PeopleKC objectives are to teach people how to grow their own food, incorporate native plants into the landscape, and grow a variety of pollinator plants. We accomplished this by providing hands-on opportunities for families (adults and children) to grow food in their own plots and by providing nutrition information. This year, as part of our commercial enterprise,  we began growing more herbs and introduced customers to a broader variety of culinary and medicinal herbs. For example, we grew six varieties of basil--sweet, cinnamon, Greek columnar, purple, lime, and tulsi--which were well received. Our profits from this new enterprise were negligible, but, with improved public relations, outreach, and advertisement, we think we can expand our sales in this area.

We will also expand our Children Grow Native program because we are invested in the process of creating healthier environments that improve human and animal health. There is a nation-wide effort to inform more people about endangered bees and butterflies and our goal is to become more integral to these initiatives. While most gardeners and all  farmers are aware of the decline in butterfly and bee populations, my anecdotal findings are that most laypeople are unaware of declining pollinator populations and the significant roles they play in sustaining our food systems and our environment. We are working to increase and sustain pollinator populations by planting more host and nectar plants; educating communities about the role of native plants; and organizing children's programs that will provide hands-on activities with plants and pollinators.

We have also produced a spreadsheet and accompanying photos of  selected native plants as part of a Missouri Master Gardener project.  

 List of  Selected Missouri Native Plants and Their Characteristics

  Photos of Selected Missouri Native Plants, 10_11-2017

Research

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 On-farm demonstrations

Participation Summary:

10 Farmers
2 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

We used three methods to advertise our projects. Networking was the most effective method of informing community members about our project, "Growing Families." We networked with individuals, some of whom brought volunteers to the site, and community organizations. Some of the organizations, such as Bridging the Gap, have a great deal of experience in organizing volunteers to participate in cleaning local streams and advocating for the increase in native plant production and pollinator survival. They were helpful in assisting Food for PeopleKC  in identifying native plants and teaching participants about the importance of bees and other pollinators. 

We also network with volunteers at a local school and who have donated funds to our projects. 

We have posted flyers throughout several communities as another method of advertising our programs. We have also increased our presence on social media, such as Facebook and Instagram. 

 

Learning Outcomes

2 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

We learned several lessons from this project:

  1. Many residents do not have the resources (land) to grow their own food. They have expressed the need for more land for the purposes of food production, floriculture, and implementing new methods of planting, such as Hugelkultur.
  2. Some vacant lots in Kansas City are relatively inexpensive. Having said this, vacant lots are becoming more scarce in and around Food for PeopleKC neighborhoods due to the influx of developers buying these properties and city policies that set aside lots specifically for large developers. 
  3. Networking is key to developing programs. We have improved our efforts in this area and will continue to build on this work. This is a key outreach component that assists in recruiting volunteers and learning about funding sources.  
  4. Local funding is scarce and very competitive.

The advantages of implementing a project such as ours are many. Among the most significant are: growing pesticide-free food; educating low-income families about the importance of growing their own food; recycling;  growing native plants; creating environments where pollinators can thrive; and educating the public about the importance of pollinators in our ecosystems. These programs increase people's awareness of alternative food choices (even if they cannot implement these alternatives immediately), and the impact that every-day citizens have on the quality of their environment. 

I would have to qualify my response to "what [I] would ...tell other farmers and ranchers" because I am a beginning farmer; therefore, any advice or recommendations that I would give, would be for other beginning farmers. The first recommendation would be to acquire sufficient funding for water catchment systems, labor, storage, and other large equipment and storage expenditures. These costs might be relatively small for large-scale farmers, but for beginning farmers, they constitute a large proportion of our funding resources.   

Another key element is networking. Again, for beginning farmers, this is key, because different people provide different kinds of resources, e.g. other people, funding, advice about funding, volunteer hours, and emotional support. Among these, acquiring volunteers and additional funding have been our biggest challenges. Funding for our Children Grow Native Program, while not a large amount of money, was obtained through face-to-face contacts. Some of these individuals made donations on Seedmoney.org (crowd funding); however, a large portion of this funding was sent directly to Food for PeopleKC. There were no donations from people whom we had not contacted directly.  

What would be helpful to small-scale farmers are: tutorials on crowd funding; larger, non-matching grants; and assistance with 501c3 preparation. The later is most important because having a 501c3 status would allow farmers to apply for more grants where this classification is required. 

 

 

 

Project Outcomes

4 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
Recommendations:

In the process of working on this project, I came to understand more about the importance of native plants and pollinators and the numbers of pollinators that are at risk for extinction. At the same time, in conversations with neighbors and colleagues in community organizations, it also became clear how little lay people know about the importance of pollinators in reproducing our food system. Pollinators are at risk in part because of the broadcast use of toxic chemicals in our environment, which not only threatens the lives of pollinators, but the lives of their predators as well. Loss of habitat and monocropping are other practices that threaten bees, butterflies, and other invertebrates.

My recommendations mostly apply to small scale farmers who want to make a difference by growing food using natural methods and by educating the public about connections between health and food. I am interested in creating holistic approaches to urban farming that benefits both growers and consumers.  

Opportunities for future studies might include:

  • Educational Projects to inform the public about the effects of glyphosate and other toxins that affect human health and pollinator populations;
  • Creating funding for a database for host and nectar plants for butterflies and safe nesting places for bees;
  • Funding to implement  the planting of native plants, trees, and shrubs on farms and in the community at large; and
  • Funding for large equipment and structures: tillers; railroad storage containers; water tanks, tunnels, and greenhouses. 

The later suggestion is significant because it would provide the infrastructure necessary for capacity building.  

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.