This is serious business, urban farming.
The Kansas City-area schoolchildren marshaled for the morning with grown-up work gloves and mud-ready shoes have real work ahead of them.
The educational aspects aren’t unimportant — learning some science, good nutrition and the power of teamwork.
But the immediate task is this:
The Cultivate Kansas City farm on Gibbs Road in Kansas City, Kan., has dozens of partnering families that expect the farm to produce the sweet potatoes that are currently growing underground in several long beds of soil.
If the emerging green stalks get spring sunlight too soon, the potatoes will not reach the right size or color.
The children from both sides of the state line who came from the private Community School No. 1, at 6400 State Line Road in Mission Hills, stood ready. They had a giant pile of straw, several wheelbarrows, their hands and feet, and a couple of hours to get those potato beds covered.
“Let’s get to work!” farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth said.
Many schools throughout the area have started gardens on their school grounds for many of the same lessons, and for the perks of harvesting some greens and fruits for their cafeterias.
But these children, who have been coming about once every two weeks from their school, get a different experience.
“This is not gardening,” farm employee Sarah Graham said, looking out across the small plain of fields, greenhouses and growing tunnels.
“This is afarm
It covers two acres in a patch of greenery amid Kansas City’s inner suburban ring. It produces some 28,000 pounds of food a year for about 40 member families and partners that invest in the farm to reap its produce throughout the year.
What do the children get out of it?
“Yea, you get to go outside for a long time,” 9-year-old Skye Bergerson said.
“We can all work together,” said 7-year-old schoolmate Zoey Hrabe.
They learn “where our plants and vegetables come from, and how to grow them,” Skye added.
And what else?
“That your shoes can get very muddy and heavy,” he said.
The children at times seemed almost to be racing to do the most work, unfazed by the frequently mucky terrain on this damp, cool morning in May.
“This is not pretend,” Community School No. 1 lead teacher Linda Powers said. “It isn’t contrived.”
They also see that farming does not have to be a rural experience. This farm is not far from their homes. One of their classmates, 10-year-old Evangeline Ellingsworth, is the daughter of the farm’s director. That’s how the connection was made.
This is like a neighborhood farm for them, and other schools could match with farms of their own, Alicia Ellingsworth said.
Some 60 farms and gardens now operate in the Kansas City area in a growing movement of community-supported agriculture, she said.
Children who drop in to join the work will learn “what it’s like to eat when you’re hungry and sleep when you’re tired,” she said. It’s OK to get dirty and it’s OK, she told the gathered students during a quick lesson about fertilizing, to say, “poop.”
“That’s technical language here.”