Driving around Kansas City, it’s hard to miss the garden plots here and there, each adding to the growing supply of local food.
By ANNE BROCKHOFF
Indeed, some 60 farms and gardens within the city limits are on show in this week’s Urban Grown Farms & Gardens Tour sponsored by Cultivate Kansas City.
It floors me to think that many folks are growing everything from greens, tomatoes, corn and berries to Nopales cacti, bitter melon, water spinach and snake beans in back yards and once-vacant lots. Some plant traditional gardens, while others use raised beds, hoop houses and hugelkultur (a type of raised bed made from rotting wood).
You can visit them all this week, get your hands dirty in a “crop mob,” soak up art and music and learn about beekeeping and chickens. And then you can cap it all off with a wine dinner on Sunday featuring Renee Kelly, chef and owner of Renee Kelly’s Harvest in Shawnee, and Chef Steven Meese of PBS’s A Chef’s Journey.
Kelly’s a staunch supporter of Cultivate Kansas City, essentially putting her money where her customers’ mouths are by purchasing as much locally as she can. Her event’s seven-course menu includes duck, peaches, fennel, quail, arugula, cauliflower, chive oil, rabbit, petite vegetables, kale, beets, watercress, strawberries, edible flowers, smoked beef short ribs, sweet onions, potatoes, cheese and milk — all from Cultivate Kansas City’s own operations, as well as Smoky Hills Farm, Bush Farm & Greenhouse, Blue Door Farm, Heritage Acres Farm, Urban Harvest KC, the Rare Hare Barn, Goode Acres, Creekstone Farms, Skyview Farms and Shatto Milk Company.
Of course, the final list could still change. It all depends on growing conditions, Kelly says.
“It’s a matter of what Mother Nature’s going to do,” she says. “She’s been kind of on her own terms this year.”
Kelly’s used to such uncertainty, and she knows farmer-restaurant partnerships are a tricky thing. Farmers need both a guarantee that restaurants will buy what they grow and the flexibility to offer alternatives when nature throws them a curve. Restaurants need assurance they will receive sufficient product, be willing to work with what’s available and follow through on early season promises to buy.
It’s a far cry from ordering through a food service company that supplies exactly what a chef wants, when they want it.
“It’s part of the conversation I encourage farmers to have with me and other restaurants,” Kelly says. “That’s part of the gap in our food system now.”
Closing that gap is exactly why Kelly threw her culinary weight behind Cultivate Kansas City. She likes that the organization teaches people how to farm and then to market what they grow, and is especially excited about its support of the educational garden and classes being added to the curriculum at the Shawnee Mission School District’s Broadmoor culinary program.
Several Broadmoor students will be in the kitchen with Kelly and Meese, prepping for the wine dinner and soaking up the experience of working such an event, she says.
“This is another outlet where the kids can see people get excited about food on multiple levels,” Kelly says.
As can the rest of us. All you have to do is buy a ticket for the Urban Grown Farms & Gardens Tour.
Anne Brockhoff is an award-winning spirits writer who writes a monthly column for The Star’s Food section, as well as food features. She blogs at food_drink_ life.wordpress.com.