Being an urban gardener feeds Sharon Goldstein, both body and soul. As the community partner gardens coordinator for Kansas City Community Gardens since 2011, Goldstein has a passion for teaching people how to cook what they grow.
Goldstein also cultivates relationships among some 250 community gardens in the Kansas City metropolitan area that produce vegetables and fruit in vacant lots and at community sites to feed the hungry. As a professionally trained chef, Goldstein relishes cooking with fresh ingredients and passing along her friendly and flavorful recipes through free community workshops.
Q: What exactly is the Kansas City Community Gardens organization?
A: Our organization supports Kansas City-area gardeners as they work to grow their own food at their homes, schools and community gardens. For more than 30 years, people with our organization have promoted growing locally sustainable food, and by doing so have helped improve the nutrition, reduce food costs and encourage neighborhood leadership in low-income areas and food-insecure households.
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Kansas City Community Gardens provides free gardening and cooking workshops, technical assistance, gardening and seed supplies, all while maintaining our own gardens on-site. Adults and children can tour our Beanstalk Children’s Garden to learn about growing fruits, vegetables, herbs and grains. We also have a Curiosity Garden, which is filled with unusual plants and has a water garden featuring water lilies, fish and frogs.
Q: What do you say to people who don’t believe they have green thumbs?
A: We live in the bread basket of the world, and the message is that everyone can grow food. Growing food in your own garden plot isn’t a new concept, it’s just something the last generation or two hasn’t grown up doing. It’s not hard to plant seeds or plants: You just need a plot that receives sun for at least eight hours a day in rich soil.
Start small, keep out the weeds and water the plants as needed. You don’t have to grow the largest tomato to eat well. It’s really gratifying to be part of nature and be a participant in the miracle of life. Little seeds grow food, which can feed many, and that is a wonderful thing.
Q: Before working at Kansas City Community Gardens, you also worked at Harvesters — the Community Food Network. Is it your calling in life to feed people?
A: I feel strongly that good, healthy, fresh food shouldn’t be a luxury, and that’s why it’s important to get involved in growing your own food. Hunger isn’t just a problem found in impoverished countries outside the United States; there are hungry people right here, in the heart of Kansas City. Fresh foods like collards greens, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, cabbage, peppers and tomatoes are all plants that do well in our gardens and are easy ingredients to incorporate into dishes or prepare on their own.
Q: How did you come up with this refreshing salad recipe?
A: You might think this recipe is a little odd until you realize cucumbers and cantaloupe are from the same family of plants. I love Asian food, and this salad hits all the notes — the sweet fruit, the salty-sour fish sauce, the crunchy peanuts, the vibrancy of the herbs and the heat of jalapeno — all blend together for a taste explosion. Add grilled chicken to this and you have a wonderful dinner.
I graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and learned very quickly that if you start with fresh, tasty ingredients, you have to do very little to create a delicious dish. Don’t be afraid to have staples like tahini paste, coconut milk and rice wine vinegar in your pantry and feel free to experiment. Just like we encourage people to get dirty and plant gardens, we also want them to roll up their sleeves, don’t be afraid to make a mess and start cooking in their kitchens.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Kansas City Community Gardens
To become a member, attend free workshops and join Kansas City Community Gardens’ fifth annual fundraiser, Gardens at Sunset on Sept. 9, visit KCCG.org. Kansas City Community Gardens headquarters is at 6917 Kensington Ave., just south of the Kansas City Zoo in Swope Park.
Cucumber Melon Salad With Peanuts
Serves 4 to 6
1 1/2 cups chopped (1/2-inch-thick) cucumber
1 1/2 cups cubed cantaloupe flesh
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced, optional
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lime, juiced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts
Into a large salad bowl, gently stir cucumber, cantaloupe, cilantro, mint, onion and optional jalapeno together. Set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk sugar, fish sauce, salt, lime juice and sesame oil together until well combined. Pour over ingredients in salad bowl and gently stir until evenly coated with dressing.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill for an hour until ingredients are cold. Right before serving, top salad with peanuts.
Per serving, based on 4: 198 calories (54 percent from fat), 13 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 18 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 681 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.