Dirt Beast Farm operates on 1/3 of an acre, and will be expanding into producing on an additional acre during 2019. We grow mostly market vegetables, and a small number of specialty crops. 2018 was our first year in production, and we use all organic growing practices, but hope to obtain organic certification within the next 5 years.
Like many urban farms, Dirt Beast Farm is located in a low income neighborhood currently experiencing an uptick in real estate value. Despite multiple farms operating in the Ivanhoe neighborhood, it has been shown that there are socio-economic boundaries present for many of its current residents’ ability to access the food grown commercially by their neighbors. We will identify those boundaries and explain possible ways to create local food access, taking into account these boundaries. In order to do this, we will be conducting surveys, distributed to our Ivanhoe neighbors, as well as hosting potlucks to encourage community dialogue around local food and to workshop ways around the identified boundaries. Our research has shown that many urban farmers in low income neighborhoods cannot count on traditional distribution channels typically associated with urban farming and must look to more culturally relevant methods. We will publish and present on our findings so that they can be used as a case study by other urban farmers to provide a more effective and economically sustainable access. We will poll urban farmers and policy makers after these presentations to determine their likelihood of adopting these methods.
- Identify boundaries between the local food market and low income Ivanhoe residents
- Determine, through research and direct engagement, what causes these boundaries to exist
- Identify and explain possible ways to create local food access, taking into account these boundaries and the reasons for them
- Compile one document, workshopped with neighbors and urban farmers on our findings investigating the economic sustainability of distribution channels for the urban farmer and consumer in food insecure neighborhoods
- Share our findings using social media, website, and presentations
- Determine the likelihood of urban farmers and policymakers adopting these methods
Throughout the first year of working on the project, I focused on two groups of people with experience and knowledge on the subject of distribution channels for urban grown food in the Ivanhoe neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods. The first group were individuals whom I knew personally who either grew food in urban settings, or worked at nonprofits that addressed food security issues. These individuals included farmer Neil Rudisill of Woodland City Micro Farm; Jenna Wilkens, who farms in Northeast Kansas City Missouri and is the founder and current operator of the Northeast Farmers Market; Dina Newman, Director at the Center for Neighborhoods at the University of Missouri Kansas City and founder of the Ivanhoe Farmers Market; Elisa Bedsworth, current manager of the Ivanhoe Farmers Market; Katherine Kelly, Executive Director at Cultivate KC; Dr Chhaya Kolavalli, assistant director of the Center for Social Justice at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, who studied racial equity within urban agriculture in Kansas City; and I additionally made notes on casual conversations on the subject with other farmers and organizers. The meetings with these individuals served the purpose of determining what sort of work has been conducted in the past on the subject, what farmers and organizers are currently working on surrounding food security and distribution channels for urban grown food, and also to inform the language used when meeting with low income populations as a “newcomer.”
The second group of people that I focused on were my direct neighbors, members of the Ivanhoe neighborhood, and customers at the Ivanhoe Farmers Market. Two strategies were used to collect data and opinions – handing out of surveys at the farmers market and at community meetings at the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council, and various types of dinners hosted at my farm. These dinners included one large dinner at the beginning of the summer of 2018 that served as a general presentation on the project, and two follow-up dinners that were conducted at my farm throughout the summer, fall, and winter of 2018 with my direct neighbors. During these more intimate dinners, we talked about preferred vegetables that were purchased at grocery stores or directly from farmers, barriers to obtaining fresh produce, and brainstorming sessions on what could be done to increase access to fresh produce in the neighborhood.
Throughout 2018, I also attended a number of meetings of farmer groups and nonprofits, where I took notes on relevant information regarding local food distribution, access, and affordability. These meetings included those hosted by The Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition and KC Healthy Kids, Cultivate KC, The Kansas City Young Farmers Coalition, and the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council. At many of these meetings, I presented on my project and handed out surveys directed more towards growers and policy makers.
Our results were measured through aggregated data from the surveys we handed out to 1. Eaters, 2. Growers, and 3. Nonprofit leaders and Policymakers, as well as notes taken during and after individual meetings with nonprofit leaders, farmers, organizers, community members, and my direct neighbors. Through these methods, we were able to identify three primary trends that limit access to urban grown food in the Ivanhoe neighborhood and similar neighborhoods:
- Access to reliable transportation
- Inconvenience of urban grown produce being publicly available just 3 hours every week at the farmers market, located in an out-of-the-way location
- Perceived higher prices of locally grown produce
Regarding transportation, many people in the Ivanhoe neighborhood mentioned the cost and inconvenience of taking the bus to the Ivanhoe Farmers Market during the weekends, which would take up to two hours each way if the individual was to walk no more than 1/2 mile. Many elderly or disabled individuals may not be able to walk to/from a bus stop, which would leave them dependent upon friends, family, neighbors, volunteers, or taxi services. This is one side of the issue that the Greater Kansas City Food Coalition is working on, partnering with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority in order to provide resources to residents on how they can more efficiently and effectively use the public transit system.
In terms of the short window that urban grown food is available to the public at the Ivanhoe Farmers Market, our conversations and aggregated surveys have found that this barrier is directly related to the first issue of insufficient transportation, since there is nowhere in the neighborhood to purchase produce available multiple times each week. Many farmers have developed personal relationships with their direct, and sometimes more remote, neighbors and will set aside designated amounts of produce each week.
The perceived higher prices of produce grown by “urban farmers” is a concern expressed by many individuals in the surveys. However, doing a cross comparison of prices at various grocery stores in Kansas City, and the prices at the Ivanhoe Farmers Market, has found that the average market prices are between 10% lower and 15% higher compared to the average prices at popular grocery stores, depending on the farmer, fruit or vegetable, and season. This does not account for the fact that most, if not all, farmers at the Ivanhoe Farmers Market grow using all organic methods, while the prices at grocery stores were those of “conventionally” grown produce. Organic produce was a value expressed in many of the surveys. In my interviews with many of the farmers, organizers, and nonprofit leaders, the issue of “cultural barriers” surrounding farmers markets where mentioned in different ways as a possible primary culprit. This issue is something we intend to explore further during our second year of research.
Educational & Outreach Activities
We are currently conducting research and outreach, so no educational events have been conducted or publications created. We have been distributing and collecting surveys, while also hosting one-on-one private dinner conversations around the topic of locally grown food distribution channels.
At this stage in the grant research and reporting, we have identified the three most common barriers to urban grown produce from a pool of community members, professionals, and farmers. At Dirt Beast Farm, we will be exploring these barriers, and working off of the brainstorming conducted with other individuals, put into practice methods to alleviate these barriers. During our second year, we will be talking more with community members and farmers to continue to explore practices that will increase access to produce grown within Ivanhoe.
From the perspective of an untrained researcher, one of the most relevant lessons learned was the importance of developing relationships within the neighborhood prior to asking questions related to the grant-funded project. This made the practice less of an “extractive” process and more concerned with mutual growth of respected individuals.