Cultivate KC is a locally-grown nonprofit that started with the goal of promoting urban agriculture and has since evolved to serve and feed their community with a sustainable and healthy food system in mind. Cultivate KC’s Eighth Annual Dig In! Farm-to-Table Benefit Dinner, which supports the local food system through food and farmers, is coming up on Sunday, September 15. Keep reading to learn more about Cultivate KC’s contribution to our local food system and how you can help.
The idea of squash and tomatoes taking root in Westport might be a little hard to imagine given the utter lack of growing space, but leave it to Cultivate KC to create an urban farm in the old playing fields of Westport Middle School. Truthfully, this growing endeavor should come as no surprise: Cultivate KC started in 2005 as the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture, which focused on growing food in city neighborhoods to feed others. Today, Cultivate KC manages two urban farms and a food forest, all in the Kansas City metro.
Although the name has changed, Cultivate KC has always been focused on creating and supporting the community through food. This is done by working with urban farmers to address the gaps in the local food system, which benefits consumers and farmers alike. Director of Communications Mary Nguyen finds this to be the most rewarding part of her job. “The work we do affects literally everybody. By supporting local farmers, we are investing in the future of Kansas City. A strong local food system feeds individuals, the community and the economy.” Cultivate KC also utilizes nutrition programs to match the dollars spent at farmers markets by people on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). They get more food and in turn, farmers get more money.
The growing that is done at the Westport Commons farm involves cover cropping, which is an eco-friendly way to add nutrients to the soil and prevent erosion. “A strong food system is one that is considerate of not just what we grow- but how. Cultivate KC works with farmers to be adaptive and nimble in a time when so many environmental and political factors are in flux,” Nguyen said. Their farming is done on a much smaller scale compared to what rural farmers can produce, but that doesn’t mean the eco-friendly farming techniques can’t be replicated and repeated in our local food system. To learn more about their farming techniques, you can book a farm tour and learn about how damn cool plants are!
If there’s anything that you’re gleaning from Cultivate KC so far, I hope it is their love of food and community. Nguyen points out that this appreciation for food isn’t reserved to farmers. For so many people, food is so personal. It represents home, a memory, a place. “We all have a vested interest in the future of farming. At Cultivate KC, we create opportunities to bring everyone together: markets for consumers to meet their farmers, farmers to meet other farmers, food lovers to meet other food lovers. It’s incredible how many differences we can transcend through our appreciation for local food and the people and families that grow it.”
One of those opportunities to bring everyone together is the annual Dig In! Farm-to-Table Dinner. This dinner raises money for Cultivate KC while showcasing food from Kansas City’s local farmers and the culinary talents of local chefs. “At Cultivate KC, we believe farmers are heroes, and they deserve fanfare in the form of chefs creating beautiful dishes and cocktails with the fruits (and grains and vegetables) of their labor for an appreciative (and hungry) audience. We hope Dig In! does that.” Nguyen mentions her favorite part of this giant love fest for local farmers is that it’s served family-style, which allows people to come together over food. “Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I love the way the dinner encourages people at the table to interact and engage with each other.” The four-course menu and signature cocktails don’t hurt either.
If you are (sadly) unable to make it to the annual Dig In! Dinner, there are countless other ways to support Cultivate KC, which in turn supports your community and local food system. Putting your money where your mouth is never hurts, as Cultivate KC handles a lot of things that only money can buy. With funding, they can support their farms, their nutritional programs, and the technical assistance they provide to local farmers. You can also attend events that are hosted at the Cultivate KC farms. Cultivate KC urges people to visit and see what their farms and farmers can do. “It instills confidence in the growers we train and creates a space for people to see how food grows, which hopefully gives them an appreciation for its cost and value.”
You can even support Cultivate KC by supporting your local food system. Challenge yourself to buy local, shop at farmers markets, and support local restaurants that buy from local farmers. Nguyen encourages people to look at their individual impact on the food system. “A strong local food system doesn’t just rely on farmers and growers. It also relies on consumers.” Taking a step further, think about what you’re not consuming. Reduce your food waste by only buying what you will eat. And if you have food waste, compost or use a composting service like Missouri Organic Recycling, Compost Collective KC or KC Can Compost. They create compost that can be used by urban farmers in addition to reducing the amount of unnecessary food waste in landfills.
With all of this in mind, I hope you walk away from this article with an understanding of your place in your local food system. After all, Made in Kansas City is not just our company name; it’s the idea that local makers can and should reach everyone in their community, local farmers included. Cultivate KC believes strengthening and supporting our local food system is probably one of the best ways to show our city pride and we raise a locally-made glass to that.