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.
Eating Local 101
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.
Why Local, Organic, And Free Range?
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.
Defining “Good” Food
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.
Rachael McGinnis Millsap, director of KC Healthy Kids’ Farm to Institution initiatives, shares big news about the future of KC Food Circle™.
At Splitlog Farm and Orchard in KCK, we’re partnering with Community Housing of Wyandotte County to grow fresh produce for the community. This summer, that little farm fed a lot of people!
“These numbers show how important urban farms are in building a strong local food system where families don’t have to go far to find affordable, locally grown food,” says Rachael McGinnis Millsap, farm to institution director at KC Healthy Kids.
Community Housing of Wyandotte County established Splitlog Farm and Orchard in 2014 to support their community building and engagement goals and in 2018, formed a partnership with KC Healthy Kids to operate the farm.
Citizens of the World, a Kansas City, Missouri charter school, has partnered with our Farm to School Academy and Urbavore Urban Farm to hold two Local Tasting events a year for the past 4 years.
Help us spread the word about these events geared specifically for people who live near Splitlog Farm (1045 Splitlog Ave) and kids in Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools!