Kansas city fruit tree plantings
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Kansas city fruit tree plantings to benefit local food bank
by Emily Winter
With a young family of three, Garrett Vincent couldn't support himself on a single income. Like many first-time fathers, he was forced to cut corners where he could. So when a social media post from a colleague about the need for produce to be donated to local food pantries prompted a conversation between Vincent and friends, they were all on board to help fill the gap.
Garrett Vincent: I love fresh produce. I grew up in a farmhouse. I love eating fresh, local produce.
So he put up signs near his home and yard, announcing that there was produce to be donated.
“Then I’d get a box of apples or a box of tomatoes, and I’d just take it around,” he said. “The signs were a little bit extreme at first, but they caught on pretty quick.”
An early adopter and champion of Kansas City’s sustainable food movement, Vincent, 32, works in the Metro Intermodal Facility as an operations engineer and was part of the team that brought the United Community Food Bank (UCFB) and the University of Missouri’s Center for Urban Agriculture to the street to start planting small fruit trees.
The 30 trees were planted on private property at Metro Intermodal Facility on land once owned by the Port Authority of Kansas City. The City of Kansas City owns the land and leases it to the port authority, which also leases land at the power station for work on transmission lines and storage of generators. The area is owned by someone else and is in the process of being sold.
From March through May, UCFB and Mizzou Extension are going to plant about 75 fruit trees and two types of berry bushes along the blocks surrounding the warehouses, where fresh produce is stored in coolers.
The cost for the trees, which come in a variety of sizes, range from $15 to $100. UCFB will cover the cost of the trees. The land around the fruit trees will be graded and planted to host annual vegetables in the summer months.
They hope the project will be a win-win for all involved.
“What we hope to have happen is that the fruit will be donated, but the roots will be a resource for the next family to come through, and the work that we have done on the site will benefit everyone in the future,” said Garrett Neel, who is leading the project.
Besides the positive results for the community, UCFB said the project would also help preserve valuable tree species.
“Tree planting is the greatest sustainable agriculture activity,” said Steve Schad, a UCFB board member and retired administrator with the USDA. “It not only provides fresh food, but the trees produce oxygen, clean air and help prevent soil erosion.”
Making a dent in food insecurity
In the United States, food insecurity is not only a problem in big cities, but it also exists on large rural agricultural land. From one in seven people nationwide having limited access to nutritious food, to some counties in the Missouri Bootheel having the highest rates of food insecurity, residents throughout the country can relate to this problem.
“In the city, you have so many different opportunities to access food, but out here in rural communities, food can be scarce or expensive,” said Lisa McCollum, executive director of UCFB. “We want to make sure this project, by putting fruit trees on private property where there is typically a lot of vacant land, serves as a positive change.”
Kim Woodall, a community organizer with Mizzou Extension, said fruit trees are much more than food.
“They are amazing trees,” Woodall said. “They are just kind of a win for everyone.”
Fruit trees — particularly the more traditional varieties such as apples, pears, peaches, plums and cherries — are known to produce a steady supply of food for their harvests, keeping their owners well fed and eliminating food waste.
Not only can fruit trees serve as food, but they are also attractive to wildlife, who often visit to eat the fruit and nest in the trees.
Vincent said that he had never heard of farmers planting fruit trees on their land until after his post went up. “But the post kind of took off from there,” he said.
One of the things that caught Vincent’s attention was a quote from “Eat Well, Be Well” — an initiative sponsored by local chefs with the aim of changing the image of urban agriculture — that read: “We need to ask ourselves, ‘What do we want to eat? How does it grow? How is it grown?’”
Vincent had been thinking about his family, who don’t have the resources to make the most of a growing season.
“I thought that [local food pantries] needed something,” Vincent said. “But what I didn’t realize is that they really need a whole lot more than I can offer.”
So they turned to Mizzou Extension and UCFB for help.
Planting in summer
The decision to plant trees in the middle of the summer was important to Neel and Woodall. They wanted to be more strategic in planting, so they decided to avoid planting in the freezing, harsh winter months.
“This is a good time of year to plant because it is really conducive to the trees,” Neel said. “We’re using shrubs and ornamental trees in the winter and really just growing all the edible fruits in the summer.”
Woodall said that she wanted to help Mizzou Extension start a community garden in a new urban setting.
“We know the difficulty of creating a garden where not everyone has access to it,” Woodall said. “These trees can help feed anyone who is in need