Francine Nelson of Kansas City is a volunteer with Kansas City Community Gardens, KCCG.org. She grows vegetables at three urban gardens and sells food at the Grown in Ivanhoe farmers market, 3700 Woodland Ave., from 5-7 p.m. Friday evenings through September. This conversation took place on a walking tour of one of her garden plots.
When did you start gardening?
Well, I got sick. Cancer, lung cancer. I almost died.
How long ago was that?
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I’m coming up on my seventh year, so I’m saying I defeated it, but there’s always more tests and it’s an awful scare all the time. I’m hoping they will learn more and get a test one day so they can tell most people, “It’s over.”
Anyway, I was sure I was going to die. They faxed a paper to my office that said: “Terminal, will not return.”
After I got sick I was having trouble with finances. You have to choose where you spend your money when things get like that.
The Ivanhoe Community Center started offering classes about growing food. I had never grown anything. But I knew I needed to spend less at the grocery store and feed myself healthier food. So I came to the classes and took notes.
I started out with potted plants. I tried broccoli and cauliflower and I had some tomatoes and I had kale because I had read that kale was a superhealthy food. The broccoli just barely made it and the cauliflower never turned into a ball, but even when tomatoes went wrong everywhere else because of too much rain, I had the most beautiful tomatoes.
The following year I decided to try raised beds. I planted two raised beds in the community garden at 36th and Euclid. There are about 12 of us at that garden, and we don’t have help at that one from master gardeners like we do here (at 37th Street and Woodland Avenue), so I come over here and learn as much as I can and then drag that knowledge back to the other gardens.
It’s God’s grace that I’m here today. He wanted me to meet all the wonderful people that come out here to the garden and volunteer and inspire the community to eat better food.
What are some of your favorite crops this year?
This Armenian cucumber is just beautiful. They grow longer than a traditional cucumber and sometimes curl around like a bugle and they taste like a cross between a cucumber and a cantaloupe. It’s just really good.
I also love these black tomatoes. They are a little larger than cherry tomatoes, and they ripen from light purple to almost black and they are just delicious. They taste different than a regular tomato.
Does gardening have any benefits for you besides good food?
The community part of it is amazing. I’ve lived all over the city. I’ve lived in Johnson County and Wyandotte County, but when I moved here I met the most wonderful people.
A lot of them are older than me, 90 and better, and they are still piddling around in gardens. That’s very motivating, because you know that their bodies can’t feel good all the time, but they don’t quit. They come out and pull weeds, and they come to the crime and safety meetings and they pick trash up off the street.
I think everybody should try in their own neighborhood to go beyond just saying “Hi” to neighbors and really come together to see what needs doing and do it.