Eat Local & Organic Expo
Johnson County Community College
Saturday April 6 , 2024
9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Free Admission, Free Parking, Free Kid Zone
Hosted by KC Healthy Kids for KC Food Circle
Access the gymnasium from North Campus Drive off of College Boulevard.
The Eat Local & Organic Expo brings together area farmers and midwest eaters
KC Food Circle kicks off farmers market season with the return of the Eat Local & Organic Expo Saturday, April 6 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Johnson County Community College. This family-friendly event is free and open to the public.
The Expo is a great place to get to know farmers and find out how you can be more connected to your food and the people who grow it.
At the Expo, shoppers can buy from some of the best local, organic, free-range farmers, ranchers, and small-batch artisans in the area.
On Saturday, April 6 at Johnson County Community College, shoppers can…
The Eat Local & Organic Expo began in 1999 as part of a food system conference sponsored by KC Food Circle™ and Sierra Club. KC Food Circle is a program of KC Healthy Kids that connects local farmers with wholesale buyers, chefs and artisans who are vital to our region’s local food system.
About KC Food Circle™
Since 1988, KC Food Circle™ has connected our region’s eaters and farmers to grow a thriving local food community. In 2019, KC Healthy Kids adopted the volunteer-led effort and continues to maintain the farmer directory, to uphold the integrity of KC Food Circle™ pledges, and to help farmers increase sales by leveraging our partnerships with area restaurants, schools and other institutions.
About KC Healthy Kids
KC Healthy Kids connects communities to close health gaps. The nonprofit invests in community education, local and regional advocacy and direct support. Their work addresses systemic obstacles through solutions-based focus areas of youth advocacy, food policy, mental health, local food and active communities for kids and their families.
Kids and their communities need a strong local food system. That’s why KC Healthy Kids helps farmers grow thriving businesses and teaches kids & families the value of growing their own food and purchasing locally-grown food.
The center is one of 12 established across the nation in 2023, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to support development of a more resilient, diverse, and competitive food system. In addition to 14 key partners, more than a dozen collaborating partners are part of the center’s work to build a more robust and responsive support system for farm and food businesses in local and regional markets.
KC Healthy Kids believes that kids and their communities need a strong local food system. With our local food programming we help farmers grow thriving businesses and teach kids and their families the value of growing their own food and purchasing locally grown food. Our planning initiatives bring together partners to work towards a resilient and equitable food system. We engage advocates and decision makers to promote good food policies that put healthy local food within reach and remove barriers so food businesses may thrive.
KC Healthy Kids will support the center by identifying existing resources, engaging food policy councils, coordinating community partners, providing technical assistance, promoting local farms and food, and administering Business Builder Subawards across our bi-state region.
“As a nonprofit that works in both Kansas and Missouri, KC Healthy Kids appreciates the support of a strong regional partnership. Having organizations from five states working together means we can further invest in our local food system," says Rachael McGinnis Millsap, vice president of programs and policy for KC Healthy Kids.
The center's purpose is to connect and strengthen small, mid-size, and diverse farm and food businesses, as well as local and regional food sector initiatives. It aims to grow the farm and food enterprises, markets, and community connections needed to make local food an everyday, easy choice.
The growing five-state resource network will provide farm and food businesses with:
Local Economy and Food Security
Building local and regional food supply chains is critical for long term growth and the sustainability not only of our region but the country, said Steve Schulz, Associate Professor in the Department of Management at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. His team will support the Heartland Food Business Center’s work to analyze and assist in developing local and regional food supply chain logistics.
“We’ve seen how vulnerable our supply chains can be since the pandemic; the school lunch program being shut down, restaurants closing, empty grocery shelves …,” he said. Adding more food and farm businesses and building shorter, local and regional supply chain links will build resilience and strengthen communities, he added.
Reliable and ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food is a major objective of USDA’s $400 million investment in establishing Regional Food Business Centers to serve the entire United States.
“USDA recognizes that local and regional food systems are essential to the overall food supply chain, and the new Regional Food Business Centers are the cornerstone of our efforts to support them,” said Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt.
The five-state center will advance the region’s ability to put local food on more tables and help smaller rural and urban farm and food businesses thrive, said Katie Nixon, Food Systems Director at the rural Missouri community development corporation New Growth. She is co-director of the center with Mary Emery, executive director of Rural Prosperity Nebraska at University of Nebraska Extension, which administers the Center.
“Over the last several decades, the power and control of our food system has increasingly gone to large agri-business,” Nixon said. “The small to medium size farms and food entrepreneurs, who often embrace social, environmental and economic sustainability, have been left to fend for themselves in an increasingly challenging system. This center is for these businesses, to help them succeed and provide good food for their communities in a way that helps them sustain their operations.”
Regional Resource Network
Co-director Mary Emery said a large part of the effort is to support and advance work that is already underway and to connect more entrepreneurs to existing resources.
“You have all these different entities working with local foods — producers, grocery stores, local distributors, non-profits, business developers … and these are all puzzle pieces,” she said. “But we’ve never put the pieces together. What we want to do with this project is put the puzzle together and see the picture of how regional food systems work.”
The Heartland Food Business Center invites collaboration with other organizations that work with small businesses and in agriculture and community and economic development. Outreach efforts will include learning about other resources and how to support them in working with food and farm businesses.
Looking for a great way to give your staff a break from the office, while also giving back to the community? Follow in MMGY’s footsteps and join us at Splitlog Farm for a day of volunteering!
This past June, 40 volunteers from MMGY, a marketing agency specializing in travel, tourism and hospitality, spent two days helping our local food team at Splitlog Farm. They took time away from the office to plant, harvest and serve their community, all while enjoying the nice sunshine.
Each day, about 20 volunteers came to pull weeds from the sweet potato patch, clean out pollinator beds and plant seedlings. The potatoes they harvested were part of KC Healthy Kids’ free farm box distribution that goes to kids and families at our partnering early care and education centers.
The MMGY staff enjoyed being able to give back to the Kansas City community and loved exploring Splitlog Farm. Most did not know the farm existed until they volunteered!
“It is always an honor to be able to give back to the KC community and do our part to help make the world a better place. We are blessed to be in such a wonderful location and love that we were able to volunteer and help out where we could! Being able to take a day to volunteer is beyond rewarding in more ways than can be counted,” said one volunteer, Brendan
Many of the MMGY staff became attached to the 6 kittens born on the farm earlier this year. One woman made it her mission to help the kittens be adopted, as well as the mama cat. By the time the kittens were old enough to be separated from mom, all were adopted quickly! The volunteer even took the mama home and named her Sofie. Sofie went from extremely skinny, to living the good life with her new family.
KC Healthy Kids is grateful to MMGY for helping get Splitlog Farm ready for the fall season. If your family, community group or staff would like to volunteer at Splitlog, please contact Gina Piccinini.
KC Healthy Kids joins Rural Prosperity Nebraska and 32 other agencies on $25M Regional Food Business Center award
KC Healthy Kids will partner with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on a $25 million cooperative agreement award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the creation of the Heartland Regional Food Business Center.
The Heartland Regional Food Business Center is among 12 such national centers the USDA will establish to serve all areas of the country. The centers will target their work to historically underinvested communities in their regions. The Heartland center will serve the states of Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa.
Rural Prosperity Nebraska, a UNL hub that helps connect Nebraska communities with university faculty, students and other resources, is leading the project in cooperation with KC Healthy Kids and 32 additional partners. Those partners include the Heartland Center in Lincoln and Extension offices in participating states, as well as non-profit organizations, and tribal and indigenous groups, among others.
“As a nonprofit that works in both Kansas and Missouri, KC Healthy Kids appreciates the support of a strong regional partnership. Having organizations from five states working together means we can continue to connect communities to close health gaps and further invest in community driven initiatives," says Rachael McGinnis Millsap, vice president of programs and policy for KC Healthy Kids.
“Kids and their communities need convenient access to healthy food through a strong local food system, says Millsap. "This partnership will have a huge impact on our ability to engage advocates and decision makers to promote policies that put healthy food within reach."
“USDA is excited to be partnering with Rural Prosperity Nebraska on this innovative and unprecedented initiative,” said Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt. “By leveraging the expertise now available through these Regional Food Business Centers, USDA can offer unique support for local food systems development across the country.”
Mary Emery, executive director of Rural Prosperity Nebraska, said the award would help paint a clear picture of the farmers, distributors and other major players in the region’s local food system.
“You have all these different entities working with local foods—producers, grocery stores, local distributors, non-profits, business developers, the Center for Rural Affairs, meat processing plants, Extension offices, the Nebraska Regional Food Systems Initiative—and these are all puzzle pieces,” she said. “But we’ve never put the pieces together. What we want to do with this project is put the puzzle together and see the picture of how regional food systems work.”
As the regional food system comes into focus, Emery and other leaders can work to do a better job of connecting people to fresh, locally produced foods.
"The inspiration for the proposal came from recognizing how underserved populations in rural communities often struggle to easily access local and healthy foods. This issue was exacerbated during the COVID pandemic, when long supply-chain lines became disrupted, leaving many communities without fresh foods. This project emphasizes the necessity to rethink local and regional food supply chains, and how to strengthen them," Emery said. The center will do just that, providing an online interactive platform where buyers, sellers, producers, processors and market managers can communicate and collaborate at the local level.
Did you know in Wyandotte County, one in three children aren’t getting enough to eat? Across the Kansas City metro area, the numbers are one in five — not much better. Even when their families can afford food, many children live in neighborhoods with too few grocery stores and too many fast food chains.
To combat hunger and provide fresh food for families with very young children, KC Healthy Kids connects farmers and early education centers to make sure children have healthy food at home.
Since 2020, more than 200 families at early care centers have received free weekly farm boxes filled with products purchased from more than 30 local farmers. The program runs for 8-12 weeks during the growing season each year, and not only are the bountiful boxes full of healthy, delicious foods, they are also delivered to their early care centers, so busy parents didn’t have to make another stop on the way home.
At the height of the pandemic, farmers’ contracts with schools and restaurants were canceled, but the produce was still growing in their fields. By signing up for farm shares, families helped the farmers receive income and prevent food waste. A majority of the food was purchased through the Kansas City Food Hub, which also assembled and delivered the farm boxes, and some was grown at Splitlog Farm and Orchard. Funding for free farm boxes for early care centers was provided by Frederick and Louise Hartwig Family Fund, The Mader Foundation, PNC Bank, Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas CARES ACT and by individual donors.
Denise (not her real name) is a Wyandotte County mom who signed up for our free farm box program. Through access to better food and some education, she and her family improved their health. She lost 50 pounds and has seen her son’s challenging behavior improve. She now sees the need for policy and advocacy in their local community to bring an end to the limited offerings they have for groceries. Here's her story:
Changing things for me was also about changing the journey for my kids and teaching them. When we got our first farm box from KC Healthy Kids, my kids didn’t know what things were. I had to tell them that these were vegetables. When we got more boxes, the kids would be excited. We opened them together, then Googled them together. We learned this is a beet; this is a zucchini. The kids helped make hard boiled eggs and season the food. It was a whole event.
As a government employee, I’m required to live in our county — developers aren’t keeping the people living here in mind. We only have Walmart as a convenient grocery store and a lot of fast food. To get anything else you have to drive far from here. My neighbors and I talk all the time about how we need a better grocery store. All my neighbors are affected by it. My family feels so much better now. We didn’t know what we were missing.
For Meighan Piefer, director at two participating centers, the program was an eye-opener.
“Honestly I had no idea how many of my "middle income" families needed food,” Meighan said. “I was surprised how fast the boxes were grabbed up and taken. We asked families to call and reserve a box if they were arriving after 5pm. We put the boxes out at 3:50 and they were gone by 5.”
By the numbers
Families at one center wanted to express their thanks. Here are some excerpts from their notes:
“I just wanted to say "thank you" for coordinating the fresh food deliveries. We had a baby this fall, and it came at the perfect time, where it was very difficult to go to grocery stores and pick out any sort of fresh food during this pandemic. I felt better about what I was putting in my body while I was breastfeeding, and my 4-year-old also has more knowledge now of certain veggies like turnips and squash.”
“Our family has been extremely grateful to be apart of this program. The veggies and fruit were always fresh and very delicious and helped out a lot when we were already out and needing food. I’ve also, been able to learn about new vegetables that were absolutely delicious!”
“The veggies were a life saver, especially when we ended up getting Covid and couldn’t get to the store for anything fresh. We would go through the eggs with the first few days because my boys loved them so much!!! The best boxes also had kale. My boys loved the kale baked and I could have used more kale! The lettuce was awesome because it lasted sooo long! We truly cannot thank you enough for this program. It helped my family so much!”
Photo: The produce in this photo is what one family received in a free farm box earlier this month. The Merc Coop in KCK donated bags for delivery. Donations in any amount help us also provide meat, cheese, eggs and honey for families who struggle to make ends meet.
Want to be a part of KC Healthy Kids' Local Food solution? Donate today
Luwillis Canada — she goes by Ms. Lu — is an early education director who believes that along with their ABCs and 123s, kids need to know their carrots, tomatoes and cantaloupes too! That’s why Canada’s Child Care Center in Kansas City, Missouri has a garden where kids can plant, tend, harvest and eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
Families and teachers are invited to visit the garden and harvest food to take home, but during the pandemic, job losses and food supply problems meant Ms. Lu’s families needed more than the garden could provide.
When she heard about KC Healthy Kids’ free farm box delivery, she signed up right away. Every other week, families received bundles of fresh produce, eggs, dairy and meat from local farmers.
“You know, I was born in Arkansas and my parents had a big farm and they also raised a big garden. I was raised on fruits and vegetables, and so I knew how it would benefit a child to have that too,” Ms. Lu said.
Across the metro, about 200 families at partnering early care centers signed up for farm shares. Not only was the bountiful box full of healthy, delicious foods, it was also delivered to their early care center, so busy parents didn’t have to make another stop on the way home.
KC Healthy Kids purchased the food and partnered with the Kansas City Food Hub to have the farm shares assembled and delivered. So by signing up for farm shares, families helped local farmers by providing them with income and way to keep their crops from dying in the field.
You can help Ms. Lu feed her kids healthy, locally-grown produce and keep area farmers in business when you support KC Healthy Kids’ Local Food programs like this one.
Changing lifelong eating habits can be a daunting and expensive task. Whether its for environmental, health, economic, or moral reasons, or if you just want you food to taste better, Local food is the way to go! But where do you start? remain calm, we are here for you! Here are our favorite ways to help people just like you start eating more local, organic, and free-range food.
A walk through the produce section of a supermarket might leave you thinking we can have all kinds of delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables year-round, at least until you actually bite into that January strawberry from South America. These days, most produce in supermarkets comes from California, Florida, and other states with longer growing seasons. Often it is shipped from other countries thousands of miles away. This is true even in the spring, summer, and fall, when local fruits and vegetables are available.
Does it seem like there is a whole new language around food? If you are new to the idea of eating this way, it can easily be overwhelming. Free-range? Animal welfare? What DOES it all mean? Here is a handy little vocabulary list to help you decipher these terms. Don't worry, there won't be a quiz later.
KC Farm School at Gibbs Road is an educational incubator for burgeoning farmers and young students alike. Led by Alicia Ellingsworth, the farm school was established in 2018 to educate and connect the community to land, food, themselves and each other. They are one of the newest members of KC Food Circle™, but the farm itself, formerly Gibbs Road Farm managed by Cultivate KC, has been a well-established anchor and educational resource to the farming community for many years.