Dozens of agitated bees hover around Joshua Anderson's head and shoulders. The farm manager is standing in a former cattle pasture, in the shadow of Nebraska Furniture Mart. He shifts his weight from one work boot to the other, absently flicking at the ear that got stung when the bees were delivered in June to the Boys Grow farm in Kansas City, Kansas.
"I was wearing red," Anderson says, "which is apparently like being a Chiefs fan at a Raiders game to bees."
Two 13-year-old boys are also buzzing. Both are digging into the beeswax that connects a pair of wooden boxes where 60,000 bees live. Prince and Deon are eager to show a farm visitor the honey inside.
"When the bees got here, there was a queen bee in a can and, like, 1,000 worker bees all around the outside," Prince says. "We just had the box and a can of Raid."
The regimen is still the same today. Neither boy wears gloves or shows any fear of being stung. Deon's pith helmet is meant to shield him from the relentless sun, not the marauding bees. On this August Tuesday, the forecast temperature is 104 degrees.
After 10 minutes of labor and a brief chiding by Anderson, who is wary of the bees' tightening flight circles, Prince holds out the tip of his knife. Thick, amber-colored honey sits in a bead the size of a sunflower seed. A lot of work has gone into this little bit of sweetness.
This is the last day on the farm for 12 boys. They are the second graduating class of Boys Grow, a two-year agricultural entrepreneurship program for inner-city kids. The idea is to teach Kansas City, Missouri, children, a few at a time, a set of life and business skills. The primary setting for these lessons is a small KCK farm off Parallel Parkway, the use of which has been donated by a former rancher. The plot is nestled below a hill blighted by concrete pipes, oversized tires and scarred red cattle fences.
It's the rough landscape of a startup. Founder John Gordon is ready to drive the three-year-old nonprofit's white bus up that pitted dirt road and into the limelight.
"I enjoy the dichotomy of life," Gordon says. On this day, he's camped out at the Starbucks near 42nd Street and Main. "On the surface, two things that seem very separate can be, in reality, very similar. I look at city kids and farming and think: Why can't it float?"
This is his unofficial office, the tables often used for business and mentoring meetings while he searches for a more permanent space. He leans in to make a point, and his shoulders bunch under the forest-green polo shirt — the Boys Grow logo visible across the front — that is his daily uniform. Gordon, 35, has a closely trimmed beard, short hair and a muscular physique not far removed from his days playing as a strong safety at Bishop Miege High School. His smile is disarming, a flash of white teeth through a crinkle at the left corner of his mouth.
Growing up only 13 blocks south of this Starbucks, Gordon had the same intensity but, he says, less control. His father was a lawyer, and his mother ran the family business, a furniture-and-design retail operation called Latin American Imports. Gordon was an impatient kid who wanted to get through school fast and learn only what he thought he could use in his life. He was a disciplined martial arts student who couldn't stay out of fights outside kenpo practice.