Nobody knows if it was a single red radish, a turnip or a clump of buttercrunch lettuce.
Nor does it matter. But one of those on Tuesday morning put the Cross-Lines community garden in Kansas City, Kan., over 40,000 pounds of harvested produce in just its 10th year.
It’s just a small quarter-acre plot, but one mighty big considering all the food goes to people in an Armourdale area that has no supermarkets.
People here, many of them poor, have to drive or ride a bus for miles, past convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, to buy fresh carrots, beans, potatoes, lettuce and onions.
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“Nutrition is very poor around here,” said Matt O’Malley, director of operations for Cross-Lines Community Outreach. “For some people, what we grow is the only fresh food they get.”
And it’s all free. The garden sits across from the Cross-Lines offices and food pantry at Shawnee Avenue and Pyle Street. Nearby, in a building that used to be a Wendy’s restaurant, the organization serves about 300 people a day breakfast and lunch.
“I don’t know any of the people who will get this food,” volunteer Glenn Hodges said Tuesday as he prepared to pick turnips.“I never see them. But I’m doing my piece.”
He’s 74, a retired doctor. He was on the Cross-Lines board a decade ago and often walked from the main building to the soup kitchen. The path carried him over a vacant lot.
It dawned on him they ought to do something with that land.
“Our first planting was spring of 2007,” Hodges said.
The best year, he said, they harvested about 5,400 pounds. The worst: 3,300 pounds.
For the record, that 40,000-pound mark over the years — that’s just what the volunteer gardeners have harvested and weighed. It’s not accounting for all they lose from people walking by.
“Sure, they take a tomato or cucumber, but we don’t consider that stealing — not if they’re hungry,” O’Malley said. “Actually, people around here look out for the garden.”
All the organization asks is that people who help themselves come back and pick some weeds.
“Fortunate people build long tables, not build high walls,” O’Malley said.
On Tuesday, another cool and cloudy morning in a season of far too many of them, a dozen or so kids and adults from a church in Linton, Ind., showed up to help. Linton is a small, rural town.
“We see rural poverty where we live,” said Hannah Watson, 16. “But nothing like this.”
Hodges put them to work. The garden needs all the help it can get this year.
“All the rain’s put us way behind in planting okra, cucumbers, beans and squash,” he said. “We need it to stop raining and warm up.”
He and the other volunteers, mostly retired men, each put in about four hours a week working in the garden.
“We’re all old toads,” he said, smiling. “This keeps us off the streets.”
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182