Chow Town

BoysGrow: Growing crops and young men

I hadn’t heard of the program until I got a press release from my friend and longtime public relations professional, Kathy Hanis.

It was about a dinner Lidia’s restaurant is putting on called “From the Farm to the Table Dinner” held on the farm as a benefit to the nonprofit group BoysGrow. The release went on to provide background on BoysGrow, a group supporting inner-city youth interested in a career in the culinary arts. It sounded like a great dinner for a great cause. I wanted to learn more.

Through Hanis, I got in touch with John Gordon Jr., the executive director of BoysGrow, to get additional insights into his background, the program and the work that it does. Gordon said a business plan was put together for BoysGrow in 2010 and the program, as the name suggests, has been growing ever since.

“It is a two-year commitment for our youth who enter the program at either 13 or 14 years old,” Gordon said. “They work three days during the summer and twice a month during the school year running our 10-acre farm. The boys assist with everything from sales to packaging of the produce.”

The mission is to teach entrepreneurism to inner-city youth through farming and agriculture. If they continue to work hard and continue to keep their entrepreneurial spirit alive, it’s hoped they’ll become successful citizens. Who knows, Gordon said, maybe they’ll even go on to make a lot of money, donate back to BoysGrow and keep the cycle alive.

BoysGrow broke ground in the spring of 2010 and has cultivated and sold its products ever since. Every year, each BoysGrow class has created a product to sell, generating income for the program. Since its inception, BoysGrow boys have produced an Agave Catsup, Salsa Orgullo and a BGQ Barbecue Sauce. The 2014 class made its own Avocado Hot Sauce.

BoysGrow farmed on borrowed land for the past three years but now has a permanent home to create a sustainable farm for the inner-city youth of Kansas City.

BoysGrow has a strong partner in Lidia’s. Lidia Bastianich is an international celebrity whose name and reputation carry a lot of weight. Gordon said he felt a kinship with her almost immediately.

“When I first met Lidia, I could sense she had connections with what we were doing with our young men,” Gordon said. “I could see her excitement and interest. She got up and spoke at the event, telling the story of her early interest in cooking while working on her grandmother’s farm. She spoke about learning how to cook and work with food grown in the backyard. She credited that, in large part, to her future endeavors.”

Bastianich said: “It is important that the youth understand how to plant the seeds and take the end product to the market and restaurants.”

Gordon said Bastianich knows the group grows on acres, not feet, and that they are teaching the boys the “professional and therapeutic lessons of growing and working with something as simple and complex as organic local food.” That, said Gordon, “is an experience people don’t forget.”

Bastianich, Gordon and everyone involved with the From the Farm to the Table Dinner is hoping for the same — an experience people don’t forget. The dinner will take place at 5 p.m. Thursday at the BoysGrow Farm, 9301 E. 147th Street in Kansas City.

The farm can be found just east of Interstate 49. Individual tickets are $150, which covers food, beverage, tax, gratuity and a $100 donation to BoysGrow.

For online reservations or to make donations, click here. The deadline to register is Wednesday.

The evening will include live music, hayrides, a bonfire and the Nigro Brothers Charity Auctioneers hosting a live auction.

Like I said at the top, a great dinner for a great cause.

What a night. What a terrific way to raise money for a great cause.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.