How you can transform your yard this spring.

The rewards of putting your hands in the till 

How you can transform your yard this spring.

Page 2 of 2

The weekly Friday classes taught by KCCG (courses titled "Raised Bed Gardening" and "Early Spring Crops" are next) don't require that you become a member. But benefits of membership exceed the $10 annual cost (which drops to $2 for qualifying low-income families) that includes 10 packages of seeds and a 5-pound bag of fertilizer. Beyond plant material, KCCG also rents tillers to members (costing $8-$15) or sends someone to help till your yard ($8-$23). And now's the time to get a plot at one of the organization's five community gardens, where gardeners swap secrets and techniques during the growing season.

"Most of our members want to garden at home, but the community garden spaces are for those that don't have the space or can't use their land because they rent or have too much shade," Mathew says.

You can rent a ground plot (20 feet by 25 feet) or a raised bed (4 feet by 12 feet) for $25 a year. The plots in Swope Park are sold out — the waiting list contains 30 names right now — but spaces remain available in the Ivanhoe-Richardson Community Garden (36th Street and Park) and at 8100 Ozark Road.

If KCCG teaches you to garden, Steve Mann teaches you to believe. His Food Not Lawns program replaces grass with gardens, transforming yards through Prairie Ecosystems Management, his landscape-consulting business.

"We talk about people's dreams and needs," Mann, 62, says. "And then we figure out what we can do, based on the constraints and resources available."

His typical consultation starts with a Google Earth assessment of the topography. Once he develops a site plan, he'll probably remind you that your garden could benefit other people. Mann spearheads the Sweet Potato Project, a coalition of community gardens that benefits the hungry. He hopes that this year, the project's fifth, growers across the city will produce 20,000 pounds of sweet potatoes, with half donated to Harvesters.

Mann is also working with architecture students from Kansas State University to develop and design vertical growing systems that are attractive, educational and functional.

Another of his projects is the Squash Blossom Food Cooperative, a re-imagining of the neighborhood grocery store. The co-op is one of the exhibitors slated for the Kansas City Food Circle's Eat Local and Organic Expos, which gather 35 farmers and food producers over the next two weekends.

"We're so divorced from where our food comes from," says the Food Circle's Brandi Schoen. "This is a chance to connect eaters with farmers and help people take care of themselves."

Emphasis at the 12th annual event is on community-supported agricultural (CSA) programs. "A CSA is a good opportunity for gardeners to augment what they're getting or get ideas about what they can grow in this climate," Schoen says. Among the goods for sale: transplants for your garden and free-range eggs and meat. The first expo is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 31, in the Shawnee Civic Center (13817 Johnson Drive). The second is from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, April 7, at the Penn Valley Community College Gym (3201 Southwest Trafficway).

The first year I lived in Kansas City, I had fresh produce delivered to my door. By the second year, I'd joined a CSA and had volunteered some hours on a farm. Last year, I managed to grow a single green pepper from a repurposed flowerpot. And this year, I'm hoping for salads sprouting a few feet from my curb. We'll see whether I can harvest more than dirt. For now, I've learned one more truth: There's no secret to gardening, just secret gardeners.

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