Urban Farms Open Doors

Growing trend brings beauty, bounty and hope to city dwellers.

| January/February 2008

Photographs by Diane Guthrie

Sherri Harvel holds court in her garden, a once abandoned block near downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Visitors tiptoe down rows of squash, lettuce and ripening tomatoes, seeking tips on urban farming.

“Start small,” Sherri says. Take soil samples, visit with neighbors, learn the history of your lot, and make sure you have a reliable water source.

Spots like her Root Deep Urban Farm are sprouting up on rooftops, in vacant lots, backyards and church lots worldwide– and, with an estimated 35 urban farms, Kansas City ranks among the leaders in this growing trend. On this hot summer day, some 600 people have ventured out for the second biennial Kansas City Urban Farms Tour to discover what the movement’s all about.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 30 percent of farm production in this country originates in metropolitan areas, up to 15 percent globally. In a recent report, the agency notes that urban agriculture promotes food security and improves health and quality of life while creating “dynamic, aesthetically pleasing cityscapes.”

Sherri’s venture in farming began with a knock on her door, an invitation to join a community garden. A few years later, she struck out on her own, sinking roots deep into the heart of one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. As she works this garden, people stop to chat, even offer a bit of advice. “The neighbors watch out for my place,” Sherri says. “They like that it’s here.”

For farmers on this tour, urban agriculture is about the joy of growing nutritious, delicious food – and earning a little money to boot. It’s about beautifying neighborhoods, improving the environment, nurturing children and giving others a helping hand.

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