“Everything you see has been funded by the food we’ve grown – the fence, the parking lot, the house, the solar panels,” Brooke Salvaggio told KCMO policy makers at a recent site visit organized by the Kansas City Food Policy Coalition.
The group was there to get an up-close look at the city’s largest urban farm, and talk with its farmers, Salvaggio and Dan Heryer, about the challenges they have faced in their 4 years of farming here.
But what the visitors couldn’t see was even more important. It was the advocacy work Salvaggio, Heryer, and the food policy coalition had done to reshape the city’s ordinances to make it all possible.
Salvaggio quickly summed up the demise of her first farm, Badseed. In 2009, she says, “It fell prey to intolerant neighbors who attempted to shut down the farm by evoking the city’s antiquated zoning ordinances.”
The flap kicked off a year-long campaign by the farmers and the coalition, which resulted in an updated ordinance that made it legal for gardeners, farmers, and community gardens to sell their produce in residential neighborhoods. It also allowed growers to offer internships, apprenticeships, and community supported agriculture programs on farms in neighborhoods.
Still, these farmers decided to find a spot where their efforts would be more welcome and appreciated. The savvy couple scoured GoogleMaps for open green spaces.
“We looked all over the country for land, but also kept looking in Kansas City. If it wasn’t a park or cemetery we tracked down the ownership,” Salvaggio said.
Their search led them 10 miles northeast to Brown Estates, where they found a 13.5 acre parcel with a 60-year vacancy. By some miracle it had escaped development—a community college, a middle school, and subsidized housing had all been considered.
“We chose this neighborhood because of its diversity and acceptance,” Salvaggio said.
So the farmers bought the land and educated their new neighbors about the benefits of urban farms and local food.
“And they all wanted it here,” Salvaggio said.
“It was good community action at work,” said Kimiko Black Gilmore, assistant to the city manager of KCMO. “This is exactly want needed to be here.”
The city had been paying up to $20K per year to have the property mowed.
The farmers successfully petitioned the city to down-zone the property from residential to agricultural, and in Urbavore’s first year, they produced $50K worth of food with barely any inputs. No city water, just rain. But with new soil, because the land’s rich topsoil had been removed over the years.
Since then, Salvaggio and Heryer have created a sustainable farming oasis with a near-zero energy house made from reclaimed materials, and solar panels to power an irrigation pump.
The tour ended with servings of babaganouj made from locally grown eggplant and easy conversation between the farmers and city officials.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to look at old ordinances to see what could be holding us back,” said Quinton Savwoir, special assistant for public policy, as he looked out over the chickens, crops and orchard.
“I know they say organic farms can’t feed the world, but our industrial ag system isn’t able to either,” Salvaggio said. Beth Low-Smith, director of the food policy coalition, reminded the group of the recent national egg shortage.
“A farm this size could feed the neighborhood,” Salvaggio said. “It just depends on what you value,” Salvaggio said.