Nadine Farris reaps what she sows, both from her life experience and the earth. As one of the lead gardening volunteers for the Paseo West Community Garden near Eighth Street and Troost Avenue for the past four years, Farris has grown fruits and vegetables that help feed the impoverished in the urban core.
Mother of two children and grandmother to six, Farris also serves as executive director of Wholly Embracing Life Lessons, which assists the disadvantaged with housing and life skills, such as cooking, for independent living. Farris passes along life lessons she has acquired both inside and outside her Kansas City kitchen as she continues to “learn something new every day.”
Q: How does your garden grow?
A: This Paseo West Community Garden plot is 70-by-100 feet in what used to be a homeless camp. It now has 27 raised beds with two 1,500-gallon rainwater attachments.
Between this garden and the Hope Faith Ministries’ (705 Virginia Ave.) 40-by-70-foot garden plot with 16 raised beds, we distributed 7,300 pounds of food last year and are on track for at least that much this year. These gardens are part of Hope Faith Ministries’ larger ministry to help the homeless transition to home-full lives.
These gardens are a labor of love that started with Joy Snyder. This land used to be a place of violence — now it grows peace and food to feed many who are hungry. This garden would be nothing without my uncle, Qayyim Durant, and other family members, who also volunteer and harvest food regularly.
Q: You really seem to be in touch with health and your food roots …
A: I have a passion for teaching people healthy habits and sharing good food with others. When we grow food and share it with others, it is a spiritual act. It is a miracle to consume food that comes from the universe. We plant seeds, but God multiplies our efforts.
I’m trying to get people back to their tables, where people bless their food before eating it. Today, so many are driving through fast-food places, eating things without even thinking. If you taste a tomato grown here, you are consuming the sunlight, the moonlight, the oxygen, the nitrogen, the water — everything from this good planet of ours that helped to grow it.
I was born and raised on Kansas City’s East Side, and my mother, Dolly Nadine Woodard, was in the catering business, so I grew up knowing how to cook. Greens, sweet potatoes and peppers are all part of the African-American tradition of cooking. The key is to celebrate the healthy foods we’re eating and not overcook these foods by frying them or boiling the nutrition out of them. You don’t need to season foods with a slab of fatback — onions and garlic are so delicious and good for you.
Q: Do you ever find yourself focusing on the weeds instead of the bounty in life?
A: The world only gets better when I get better. You can’t eat for me. I, alone, can do that, and I have a choice what I put into my body. Diseases such as diabetes, strokes and arthritis plague many, and food is the first medicine in taking care of our bodies.
First, we must set the intention, then place the attention on being well. Humans are not unlike these plants; we start small and grow together for, hopefully, a higher purpose.
Sometimes others may get discouraged because there is still so much need, sickness and suffering. But I can only focus on helping one single person. If I do that, that person may go to help another, and on it grows. Like the garden, things do not happen overnight. In God’s time, things will change.
Q: Is it any coincidence that the tomato is also called a “love apple”?
A: Giving someone a tomato is sharing the love. There are so many wonderful things that can be made from the tomato, and roasting them is one of my favorite ways to preserve them. You can roast tomatoes in the oven and it brings out the sweetness in the fruit.
If you don’t want to make these noodles, just roast the tomatoes and garlic and put it into a glass jar in the refrigerator. You can use roasted tomatoes to top a pizza, add to a whole-wheat wrap or just place on a garden salad — the uses for roasted tomatoes are endless.
In this garden, we’ve also grown collards, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, lettuce, peppers, berries, sweet potatoes, carrots, Swiss chard, okra and herbs, including one of my favorites — lemon balm. We’ve already harvested the apples from our budding orchard.
Being in the garden helps you appreciate the cycles of nature. There are many lessons that come with gardening, too, and, for me, gratitude is at the top of that list.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
How to help
Oven-Roasted Tomato Noodles
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, sliced and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 head garlic, skins removed and minced
1/4 cup olive oil, divided usage
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 (8-ounce) package rice pad Thai noodles
1 lime, juiced
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced, optional
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, gently stir tomatoes, garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin until evenly coated. Pour contents onto prepared baking sheet, spreading into a single layer.
Roast vegetables for 20 to 30 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft and slightly caramelized.
While tomatoes are roasting prepare rice noodles according to package directions. Place colander in sink and drain noodles. Immediately rinse with cold water, continuing to shake noodles to remove excess water.
Pour noodles onto serving platter and toss with lime juice, rice wine vinegar and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil until well coated. Pour tomatoes, their juice, cilantro and optional jalapeno over noodles and toss. Serve immediately or place in refrigerator until completely chilled.
Per serving, based on 4: 389 calories (33 percent from fat), 15 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 65 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 269 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.