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Water access an issue for many urban gardeners

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Many groups are working to improve water access for urban gardeners and farmers. For the last three years, one Kansas City, Kan. resident has grown enough okra in the garden in the Healthy Kidz Community Garden that she was able to sell the produce not only at a local farmer’s market, but to Westwood Apple Market as well, raising money for youth programs in the neighborhood.

This year, the drought and the difficulty of water access has meant this urban farmer has produced barely enough okra to take to the farmer’s market.

While the number of urban and community gardens are increasing in the Kansas City metro area, access to water continues to be an issue for those wanting to grow their own fruits and vegetables for personal consumption or to sell at farmer’s markets and beyond.

In the Rosedale neighborhood in Kansas City, Kan. there are 14 community gardens which total up to about 50 plots according to Heidi Holliday, acting director of the Rosedale Development Association.

Their Healthy Kids Initiative’s Raised in Rosedale program teaches residents everything about producing gardens in their neighborhood.  However, the urban farmers need access to water to make this program work.  2012 has been a difficult growing season due to the lack of rain in the Kansas City area.  Without that natural water source, gardens have been stressed.  Some of these local gardens also lack access to a city water source, adding to the difficulty of producing good crops.

Local gardeners want to have their own water, but many times installing water access is cost prohibitive for urban farmers and community gardeners, commonly costing several thousand dollars. Holliday said they are working with officials within the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, the Board of Public Utilities and other urban farms and gardens to see about decreasing the cost of accessing water for urban farmers and gardeners through the H2O to Grow campaign.

The campaign includes Rosedale Development Association, Rosedale Healthy Kids Initiative, Get Growing Kansas City, Master Gardeners, Cultivate Kansas City, Kansas State Extension, Northeast Healthy Kids Initiative, Kansas City Community Gardens, Southwest Boulevard Family Health Care, Greater KC Food Policy Coalition, KC Healthy Kids, Central Avenue Betterment Association, Catholic Charities of NEKS, New Roots for Refugees, Livable Neighborhoods, Turner Community Garden, and Latino Health For All.

Meanwhile, officials in Kansas City, Mo. and the Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition are exploring a variety of strategies for improving water access and affordability for urban food production in that municipality as well.

“Without water hook ups, the drought we experienced this summer has made many community gardens and urban farms in “food deserts” look like real deserts,” said Beth Low, Director of the Greater KC Food Policy Coalition. “For the growing number of lower income residents relying on urban farms and gardens for healthy food, the drought and lack of city water mean less food on the table.

“Kansas City, Mo.’s elected officials and departmental representatives have shown shown a strong desire to make a difference for these folks and we’re working together to identify the best solutions,” Low added.

For now, the gardeners are coming up with different ways to get water on their crops, which have been battling the dry Kansas summer.

“We are borrowing water from our neighbors,” Holliday said.  “We are running hoses 300 feet and hooking up to churches and just asking for permission from those with water.”

Holliday said the Rosedale Healthy Kids Initiative is sponsoring a rain barrel workshop in September to help the gardeners learn to take advantage of whatever water is available.

In the meantime, Holliday and others will keep working with local policy makers to see if water access can be made easier for her neighborhood gardeners who are trying to eat right and supplement their incomes. Low agrees.

“We are committed to finding sustainable solutions to ensure that community gardening and urban farming remain viable sources of affordable, healthy food throughout the metro,” she said. “The rain may be returning, but it hasn’t dampened our efforts.”

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