BY ROY HARRYMAN
This article originally appeared in The Kansas City Star.
Kansas City, Kan., students are getting a green thumb and pocketing some greenbacks at the same time.
A program launched by local businessmen is enabling children and young adults to plant, cultivate, harvest and sell organic vegetables.
All the activity starts at the 8.5-acre farm of Joe Jennings. Children from the University of the Arts and Logistics of Civilization, a private school at 1303 N. 36th St., visit twice a week. The students ranging in age from preschoolers to high school seniors come face to face with earth, plants, worms and weeds as they raise vegetables including beans, corn, squash, onions, kale, lettuce, collard greens and Swiss chard.
“They get their hands dirty and deal with nature,” said KeShaundra Hadley, an instructor at the school.
Once the produce is ready for harvest, students take turns selling it at Merriam Organic Market, 5740 Merriam Drive, which is open from 4 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday.
Some of the food is also used at the school’s affiliated Food for Life Supreme Diner as well as its supermarket and bakery. At the end of the growing season, students will use the proceeds for a special activity of their choice, Hadley said.
Jennings, the farmer, has hosted many student groups and said the experience teaches them not only agriculture but economics.
“They expose themselves to the farm and learn that money doesn’t grow on trees,” he said. “You have to learn how to work for it. The more exposure you get to various ways of life, the more intelligent you will be.”
The program, called From the Land to the Pan, was introduced by community organizer Richard Mabion, who shared the idea with the school this spring. Mabion, Jennings and Quindaro merchants Andy Ammons and Gary Wilson pay for the school’s booth space at the market.
Mabion thought of the idea two years ago. Then last summer he tried his hand at organic farming with Jennings. He sold the fruits of that labor at a Quindaro produce market. Having experienced the sweat and joy of farming himself, he joined with his friends to bring the concept to schoolchildren.
“What it’s doing is teaching students the whole process of where food comes from, what it’s like to get food on the table,” Mabion said. “They get a chance to see there are benefits to working out at the farm.”
Children from the school also visit the Kansas City Community Farm, 4223 Gibbs Road, on Fridays. There they get lessons in agriculture and more hands-on experience.
“They have been one of the best youth groups I’ve had come out to the farm,” said Katherine Kelly, a farmer and executive director of the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture. “The kids are really curious and engaged.”
Kelly said early experiences with organic farming can set the stage for a healthier lifestyle in an age of childhood obesity.
“Getting kids out to the farm and engaged in growing vegetables ... is putting them in contact with real food that is healthy for them and tastes good and has a story attached to it,” she said. “I think it helps them really appreciate it for life.”
Mabion, who has also introduced farming ideas at Wyandotte High School, said the program helps children learn self-sufficiency, gain pride in their neighborhood and experience community support.
“We’re all in this together,” he said.
He hopes to see other area students involved in hands-on farming.
Mabion said watching children work the land tugs at his heartstrings.
“To see kids doing that was just a sight to behold because you just don’t see kids do that nowadays,” he said. “It’s beautiful. It never ceases to amaze us.”
As for Jennings, he said his contribution is in helping to mold young minds.
“I’m just trying to participate to help train kids who will be the leaders of the country in the future,” he said. “It’s just a joy for me to be able to help someone because my slogan is, ‘Who have you helped today?’”
BY ROY HARRYMAN