If all the grocery stores ran out of food and closed, how would you eat? It’s a question countless people asked as grocery store shelves sat empty at the beginning of the pandemic.

Although it was formed in 2016, before most people gave thought to a pandemic, Kansas City Urban Farmers Co-op (KCUFC) was built for a time like this. Founded by Dre Taylor and Darrian Davis, the goal of KCUFC is to build a locally owned, member-operated, healthy and sustainable food chain in the Kansas City urban core.

“I think the idea of urban farming has come to the forefront of a lot of people’s thoughts,” said Davis. “It's a lot more interesting to people and they are starting to see it a lot more seriously.”

In fact, more people have been gardening since the pandemic hit, not only just to grow their own food, but because they find solace in it while they may be confined at home.

If you needed more proof that people are turning to gardening, you should have attended any of the recurring volunteer days held this summer at Kansas City Urban Farmers Co-op on East Gregory Street in Swope Park. On any given weekend, you could find dozens of urban farmers, of all ages and races, getting down and dirty in the soil.

“This is where people should be in a pandemic,” said Rob Reiman, CEO of the Giving Grove, a partner with KCUFC. Reiman volunteers at the KCUFC orchard every couple of weeks and suggests others get involved with community gardening, since it’s easy to social distance, gets you outdoors and you can grow your own food without pesticides or herbicides.

“There is something about when you stick your hands in that dirt,” Davis said. “It changes something about how you look at everything and at the world.”

“It’s therapeutic to be in nature and be able to connect, get your hands dirty, see the fruit from the harvest,” Taylor said. “Seeing things grow, seeing the progression of it and getting something that you put in the ground, that’s always satisfaction.”

Addressing Food Insecurity

Davis said food insecurity has always been a big issue, but the pandemic is just shining more of a light on it.

“The urban core is always one of those things where when the rest of the world gets a cold, the urban core gets pneumonia,” Taylor said. “It’s another straw on the camel’s back.”

Davis was first introduced to urban farming and the issues of food insecurity when Taylor hired him as a contractor for his Nile Valley Aquaponics, located on Wabash and 29th Street. Aquaponics is a farming technique that uses the symbiotic relationship between fish and plants. The plants use the fish waste as nutrients and fertilizer, while nutrients from the plants clean the water for the fish.

Taylor set the location for Nile Valley Aquaponics in the urban core on purpose, to be a resource for the surrounding community not only providing fresh and nutritious food, but also food education, employment opportunities and empowerment.

From contracting, Davis says he began helping with farming, learning as he went. He saw first-hand the disconnect the urban core had from natural and healthy food. He noticed many local families did not have transportation to get to grocery stores and instead were buying their groceries at liquor and dollar stores.

“And the funny thing is, it's expensive to be poor, all of their food is overpriced and very low of any nutritional value,” Davis said.

During student tours, Davis would ask students where their food comes from. Their answers were worrisome to him. “Hamburgers grow on trees,” one young girl said to him, others said their food comes from packages.

150-Tree Orchard

KCUFC was a natural spin-off from Nile Valley Aquaponics.

“We want to inspire more people to grow their own food,” Taylor said. “Growing your own food is a revolution. People who feed themselves, lead themselves.”

Their goal is to help Kansas City’s Urban Core meet the growing demand for fresh, sustainable food. To do so, they have adopted several strategies:

In addition to building an urban agricultural center that employs vertical farming and aquaponics techniques, they will convert abandoned city lots into a network of income-producing micro-farms, and partner with local government agencies to grow fruit orchards in public parks.

In 2018, thanks to Kansas City, Missouri, government support and funding from the city’s Public Improvements Advisory Committee, KCUFC was able to plan and plant an urban orchard.

The orchard has over 150 fruit trees, which won’t bloom for another five years, but once they do, it is projected to be one of the biggest urban orchards in the country. KCUFC estimates the orchard will yield more than one million pounds of fruit over the next 20 years, creating what Davis calls an economic engine with jobs that will stay in the local Black community.

With food security, education and self-sufficiency all part of KCUFC’s main pillars, Davis and Taylor hope to build a training facility at the orchard where people can learn how to grow their own food and take those skills back into their neighborhoods. 

“It’s therapeutic to be in nature and be able to connect, get your hands dirty, see the fruit from the harvest,” Taylor said. “Seeing things grow, seeing the progression of it and getting something that you put in the ground, that’s always satisfaction.”

KCUFC wrapped up the season with their last volunteer day last weekend, but if you’re interested in getting involved, stay updated on the Nile Valley Aquaponics and Kansas City Urban Farm Co-op Facebook pages or reach out:

Nile Valley Aquaponics: 816-382-2489

KCUFC: 816-535-0832

• Nile Valley Aquaponics: 816-382-2489 • NileValleyAquaponics.com

• KCUFC: 816-535-0832

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