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Community Gardens: Catalyzing Transformation in KC’s Urban Core

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Imagine living in a neighborhood, in the heart of Kansas City, where access to healthy food is not a given. Grocery stores are open many miles away, but not in your neighborhood. Owning a car and being able to drive to one of those grocery stores is too expensive. Your children are hungry for dinner, and you’ve got very little in your cupboards—not enough to make a full meal. You round them up and take a family walk to the only nearby, affordable place from which to purchase your groceries: the corner convenience store.

On your walk you notice how bad the abandoned lots along the way have become, filled with trash and dangerous debris. Too dangerous for the children to spend their summer days playing outside. You reach the convenience store, and inside the children pick out their favorites: frozen burritos, chips, soda. Not one fresh vegetable is to be found inside those walls.

Now imagine living in that same neighborhood, in the heart of Kansas City, where access to healthy food is abundant because those abandoned lots have been transformed into a beautiful, safe, productive green space: a community garden. Instead of chips, your children are eating (and growing!) sweet potatoes. Instead of frozen burritos, they’re growing (and eating!) kale salad. In the summertime, they walk to the garden, which provides a beautiful and safe outdoor space for them to learn a new life skill. They’ve become inspired by their community garden to grow tomatoes and herbs in your backyard, and so have your neighbors. In fact, they are using the community garden to organize and share ideas on how to make the neighborhood even better.

Kansas City Community Gardens is making this transformation a reality in hundreds of neighborhoods across the metro. With over 500 gardens and orchards at schools, nonprofits, congregations, senior living facilities and neighborhood sites, KCCG is increasing access to fresh, healthy foods for all as these gardens produce more than one million pounds of fruits and vegetables each year. But executive director Ben Sharda says it’s more than just food access. “Community gardens are a tool for low-income residents to collaborate and take transformational control, resulting in a better food system and the revival of their neighborhoods.”

Written by: Courtney Foy