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Fight over KC tilapia farm and garden is settled, and the project will proceed

Feud over tilapia farm has happy ending

Dre Taylor is back to work at Nile Valley Aquaponics after moving past differences with Harold Johnson Jr., president of the Kansas City Keys.
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Dre Taylor is back to work at Nile Valley Aquaponics after moving past differences with Harold Johnson Jr., president of the Kansas City Keys.

Nile Valley Aquaponics is back on track.

Two sides that spent the summer feuding over a tilapia farm and community garden at 29th Street and Wabash Avenue say they have reached an agreement that will allow the project to go forward.

“I’m pleased that we have moved past our differences,” Harrel Johnson Jr., president of the Kansas City Keys, which owns the project site, said in a joint statement with Dre Taylor, the driving force behind the project. “We have more in common than any issues that may have divided us.”

The project started about a year ago with an idea by Taylor to raise tilapia and fresh vegetables on a corner in a poor neighborhood. He wanted to use young boys in a mentoring group he founded called Males to Men to help.

But when construction was nearly finished, Johnson barred Taylor from the property.

“I’m glad we are back to doing the work we started,” Taylor said Monday at the site.

According to the statement, Nile Valley Aquaponics will proceed as a project of the M2M (Males to Men) Community Foundation.

The peace accord came shortly after the Land Bank of Kansas City threatened to take back the property.

Nile Valley Aquaponics, a Males to Men and Kansas City Keys project, is building a greenhouse structure at 29th Street and Wabash Avenue where thousands of pounds of tilapia and vegetables will be raised.

That’s how the Kansas City Keys got the land in the first place: It bought the lots from the Land Bank for $300.

The deal was contingent on Taylor’s project. But Johnson then barred Taylor from the property after trying to sell him the land for $350,000.

When Land Bank executive director Ted Anderson learned of the dispute, he sent a letter to Johnson and all the other board members for the Kansas City Keys, reminding them of the agreed-upon use for the land. Anderson demanded receipts and lien releases for work done on the property.

Trouble started shortly after a story about the project appeared in The Star in late June. The story told how Taylor wanted to use the project to provide healthy fish and vegetables to people in Kansas City’s food desert.

He said the plan, involving a 120-foot-long greenhouse, would build neighborhood pride and become one of the most innovative community gardens in the country. The project received praise locally and nationally.

But then Johnson put new locks on the gates, barring Taylor from the site.

In a letter dated Aug. 15, Johnson told Taylor that it was never the intent for the Keys to hand over the project to him.

Johnson’s parents, who founded the Keys in the 1970s and donated two lots for the project, sided with Taylor and criticized their son for the trouble.

In the joint statement, which was released Sunday, Taylor said he and the boys in Males to Men would “be forever grateful for the Keys’ vital role and generosity associated with this project.”

Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182

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