Mark Samborski was just weeks away from retiring after 36 years at UPS. As he drove up Interstate 35 on his way to church, he prayed for guidance.
What should he do the rest of his life?
Samborski, 54, who also is a minister, said he felt directed to look to the left and there, on the other side of the highway, he spied a sign on a long closed greenhouse. The greenhouse was to be auctioned in just 10 days.
He had been growing organic vegetables and fruits as a hobby for about 30 years, even taking classes in agriculture and crop science at Farmland Industries.
“I had noticed the greenhouse before and thought, ‘What a shame,’ ” Samborski said. “There is just such a need for what that place could offer — organically grown vegetables and fruits, a need for a garden center in that area, and it needed to be repaired for the community. But the broker who showed it to me said ‘You must be a visionary,’ because it was so broken down.”
Indeed. The greenhouse had been dark for three years and was filled with trash and dead plants, creating a bit of an eyesore along the interstate. But Samborski and his brother Jeff pooled their funds, enough to have the winning bid.
They took over the site — at 2727 N.E. 44th St., about 7 miles from downtown Kansas City — in January 2014, each brother heading a crew — one for clean up, the other for seeding and planting — with Mark’s son Benjamin serving as general manager.
About 95 percent of the plants at Antioch Urban Growers are grown on-site from organic or heirloom seeds in Missouri organic soils — including herbs, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, watermelons, pumpkins, cantaloupes, sweet potatoes and more. The main greenhouse’s fig trees and Italian and southern California grape vines also survived the three-year shut down.
Now the family is expanding in another greenhouse on the property, adding more pumpkins, watermelons, cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes. Eight wooded acres on the northeast side of the property have wild gooseberries, blackberries and native herbs — yet to be harvested. The site also has several fruit trees.
On Thursdays, the family sells organic produce from their cousin’s Polo, Mo., farm, at the Farmers Market at The Village at Briarcliff and they hope to soon sell more produce at the greenhouse. They also want to help other urban farmers by offering such services as raised bed construction, hydroponic systems, and edible landscape planning.
Later this month, the Samborskis plan to start a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a Bobcat excavator to help with composting and clearing land for more gardens, to help pay for alternative heat sources during the winter months and for a structure where they can hold classes on urban gardening.
“I want to show appreciation for the homegrown, down-to-earth customer base that has become our lifeline,” Mark Samborski said. “It’s ‘My mom told me, or my sister told me or my neighbor told me.’ When people are selling for us we must be doing something right.”
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