Our Community First Principles define our approach to building partnerships with community-led organizations to build thriving local food systems and grow community health. They help us meet the needs and reflect the desires of the people we serve, be respectful and responsive to different perspectives, and increase access to fresh food. Through our Community First Principles blog series, we are spotlighting our seven principles in action and examining what it means to bring to life the Whole Foods Market Core Value of “caring for our communities and the environment.”
“We look forward knowing there is more work to be done and remain committed to it.”— Brien Darby, Executive Director at Cultivate KC
Patience can encompass many things from tenacity and persistence to calmness and kindness. As we work to support vibrant local food systems, Whole Cities Foundation strives to Be patient with everyone including ourselves (one of our seven Community First Principles), and we find our community partners modeling this daily. Especially during the pandemic.
Cultivate KC, a locally led nonprofit serving the Kansas City metro area, has embraced a multifaceted approach to grow food, farms and community. This model paired with true grit allows their team to be resilient and adaptable in the challenging process of growing a sustainable and healthy local food system for all.
“We recognize that food access is a human right and that every person plays a role in creating an equitable food system. Farmers deserve to earn decent wages and work in conditions that don’t compromise their health and safety; all people deserve access to food that is healthy, affordable and culturally relevant,” explains Brien Darby, Cultivate KC’s Executive Director. “With this as a starting point, we’ve identified leverage points in our local food system where our programs can improve outcomes for both growers and consumers.”
Cultivate KC was founded in 2005 by organic farmers with the goal of promoting urban agriculture. Over time, they broadened their focus and adapted their work in response to community needs and the rapidly changing food system. Today, the team at Cultivate KC is made up of farmers, educators, trainers, advocates and organizers who provide proven resources and facilitate changes in the local food system through food production, food access and community engagement.
“We are an organization that elevates the needs of small-scale farmers while also providing access to locally grown healthy food to food-insecure populations. We believe that you can achieve both of these goals without comprising the bottom line for the farmer or the quality of the produce for the consumer,” adds Darby. “From the beginning, our strategy has been to build awareness and interest in a local food system for all community members. Demand drives the market while also reinforcing our message that local is worth supporting and can be an option for everyone.”
FOOD PRODUCTION: THE FARMER
Cultivate KC manages three urban food-growing sites in the KC metro area in both Missouri and Kansas:
Juniper Gardens Training Farm. This nine-acre farm is where Cultivate KC co-manages New Roots for Refugees, a four-year farm business incubation program for resettled refugees with agricultural experience. These aspiring farmers start and operate independent vegetable farms that supply healthy produce to feed KC through farmers markets, an aggregated CSA program and an aggregated wholesaling operation that supplies restaurants throughout the metro area. Participants learn how to successfully grow in the KC region and acquire the marketing skills and confidence to become small business owners. (Check out one participant’s story here.)
Westport Commons Farm. This empty ball field turned organic working farm in the heart of midtown Kansas City serves as an education and training site for students, farmers and members of the community and demonstrates sustainable soil building practices. It was established to be a place for neighborhood residents and businesses to connect with their food and with each other, as well as be a catalyst for increased urban agriculture and improved healthy food systems in the metro area.
Food Forest. This small but thriving quarter-acre lot in Merriam, Kansas is one of just a few food forests in the country. It is home 39 varieties of fruit and nut trees and 12 different shrubs and helps the farmers learn more about agricultural ecosystems.
In addition, Cultivate KC works to increase local food production by expanding the number and capacity of local farmers. There are several ways they support urban farm development through their Metro Farms & Food Systems program including facilitating mini-grants to provide start-up and expansion funds for small farms; cooperative bulk ordering to lower supply costs for local farms; offering workshops and networking opportunities; and providing one-on-one assistance to help local farmers navigate bureaucratic systems.
ENGAGEMENT: THE COMMUNITY
Cultivate KC’s extensive public outreach helps community members discover ways to support the local food economy by eating more locally grown food, becoming growers, advocating for local food, touring urban farms, and participating in educational events and volunteer opportunities.
PATIENCE, PERSISTENCE AND MILESTONES IN 2020
Despite the pandemic’s obstacles, Cultivate KC was able to connect farmers with the resources they need to succeed, cultivate farms and increase healthy food access in under-resourced neighborhoods. Here are a few noteworthy accomplishments from 2020:
- Juniper Gardens Training Farm’s sales increased from $144,176 in 2019 to $163,291 in 2020
- The New Roots program had four graduates bringing the total program graduate count to 36. Three new farm families were recruited to start in 2021
- The Farm Share program doubled CSA sales and expanded sales by seasons
- Two new food access programs were added:
- Senior Farm Share, which fed more than 1,000 seniors
- Metropolitan Lutheran Ministry’s food pantry and Welcome House, which provided nearly 10,000 meals and served about 1,500 people
“Cultivate KC was able to do this because of our years of investment in growing food, farm and community for a sustainable equitable food system. We look forward knowing there is more work to be done and remain committed to it,” explains Darby.
PARTNERS WITH A SHARED VISION
Whole Cities Foundation is inspired by Cultivate KC’s patience and perseverance. We are honored to have supported their efforts since 2016 when we awarded them with a Community First Grant. We then deepened our commitment with additional grants in 2019 and 2020. Over the years, Whole Cities Foundation has invested a total of $18,000 within the nonprofit as they work towards creating a democratic, just and sustainable local food system.
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- Viva Farms and the Importance of Being Open and Honest
- Announcing Our 2022 Community First Grant Partners
- Community First Grants: Team Member Engagement in Action
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