Chow Town

Seed-planting program reinforces importance of where food comes from

Planting of individual seeds begins.
Planting of individual seeds begins. Special to The Kansas City Star

A group of eight people gathered at Cobinsteinz Farm in rural Bucyrus, Kan., on a blustery February afternoon so that we could plant about 2,000 seeds in plastic trays.

It was the second meeting for a new Slow Food Kansas City project called Planting the Seeds of Change.

Farm owner and new board member John Cobine had graciously collected dozens of heirloom and Ark of Taste seeds and scheduled a series of seed-planting sessions. Sales of resulting plants will support local food-related nonprofits. They will also be given to community and school gardens.

After a brief walking tour of Cobine’s expansive fields and antique barn, participants began the process in earnest. Several helpers incorporated extra water into a huge plastic tub full of soil before others spread enormous handfuls across plastic trays and tamped it down inside each slot, making sure they were nearly full of loosely packed soil.

Additional people began the laborious process of placing one seed into each slot. They wrote plant labels on plastic markers and created shallow depressions across each tray, using the base of a pencil or other blunt object.

A single seed was placed into each depression before more dirt was spread on top. Soon the entire group had gathered around an expansive table, with headlamps turned on so we could see better.

As stars filled the inky-dark sky, everyone dispersed for the evening. In three weeks, we would gather again, this time to transfer fledgling plants to small pots and prepare for sales.

I didn’t grow up gardening in the suburban areas where we lived throughout the United States, and no extended family members gardened much beyond backyard tomatoes. Only our Walnut Creek, Calif., neighborhood exposed us to a somewhat rural environment, as it bordered a deep gully beyond which rattlesnakes slithered and cows grazed.

So when my husband and I moved to our current house with our young daughters more than 20 years ago, it was a pretty big deal for us to plant herbs and peppers in addition to tomatoes. Alas, our now mature trees preclude creating a backyard garden — and planting food in our suburban front garden requires careful thought about the resulting appearance.

But ever since I participated at Slow Food International’s biannual Terre Madre conference last October, I’ve noticed a subtle mind shift. I’m even more convinced that how we produce our food and where we get it are important. I also want to learn more about growing food — and do more of it.

Lisa Waterman Gray is a freelance writer based in Overland Park. She specializes in food and travel writing.