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In Missouri, A Hobby Garden Gone Wild Evolves into Certified Organic Urban Farm

In Missouri, A Hobby Garden Gone Wild Evolves into Certified Organic Urban Farm

December 21, 2016 |

Rodger Kube describes the start of his and his wife’s urban farm in Kansas City, Missouri, as a hobby gone wild.

Stony Crest Urban Farm is a certified organic operation that produces vegetables on about 2.5 acres, Kube says. The farm is a small one that sells hyperlocally, keeping the produce within 10-miles, he says.

Stony Crest came to fruition after Kube and his wife, Diane Hershberger, bought a property in 1997 in southeast Kansas City so they could have more space to garden.

Kube learned to garden from his parents growing up in Nebraska. He studied speech and philosophy and went into the ministry. Hershberger is a civil engineer and had worked for the Environmental Protection Agency. Kube was passionate about the environment as well. In the 1970s, he helped organize one of his college’s first Earth Days, he says.

It is their interest in the environment that prompted the couple to pursue organic certification.

“It’s the recognition that feeding the soil is very important, and even growing up in a part of the world where industrial agriculture is what people had to do to make a living. I saw the changes that happened when they started plowing everything fenceline to fenceline,” Kube says.

Being deemed a certified organic farm by the United States Department of Agriculture, means Kube and Hershberger have to be on top of documenting what goes into their soil, but it is worth it to them, Kube says.

“It seemed to us given the kind of urban oasis that we have and given our background and given our concern about the overall general environmental degradation that’s going on all around us, that certified organic was the way to go,” Kube says.

The couple relies heavily on compost to add nutrients to Kansas City’s clay soil.

“We don’t have any manure, so we have this huge pile of rotting vegetable material that I’m constantly turning over by tractor scoop to keep it aerated,” he says.

Before Stony Crest turned into an urban farming operation, Kube and Hershberger started small and put food out on the church table where Kube worked to help the hunger ministries. The couple then occasionally sold produce at farmers’ markets.

That changed by 2009 when Kube and Hershberger’s operation began to grow, with trips to the farmers’ market increasing in tow.

Now the couple sells produce to several local restaurants, at several farmers’ markets a week, and to Nature’s Own Health market.

“In addition to what we have at our own house, […] we rent or lease some lots in the neighborhood, so we have this oasis here and there,” Kube says.

Stony Crest grows everything from beans to zucchini and specializes in growing artisan vegetables. Kube says the farm grows enough to feed about 300 families.

“We grow a lot of cherry and odd colored tomatoes, a lot of heirloom tomatoes, lot of colored carrots, funky lettuces — we have one lettuce that’s Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed lettuce — which is an heirloom,” Kube says. “It’s a beautiful green lettuce that has kind of a reddish tinge to it.”

Stony Crest also grows lots of peppers, including poblano and Hungarian black peppers, as well as  spinach, kale, broccoli and carrots.

One of our specialties is growing carrots that are actually long and straight because it’s pretty hard to do here in Kansas City,” Kube says.

Along with all the growing, Stony Crest is also involved in education efforts.

“We live in an economically depressed area where 98 percent of the kids, if not more, who go to school are on the free and reduced lunch program, where there’s an incredible amount of single-parent families, where there’s a high rate of home rentership and movement of people,” Kube says. “So, we have worked closely with the Center School District teaching children the importance of local food and how to grow it and how to prepare it.”

All of that leaves little time for rest, Kube says.

“We’ve expanded to the point that we are comfortable with dealing with and it’s like when you get older, it gets harder, and we’re both in our 60s and it’s gotten a lot harder,” Kube says.

Kube says the work is constant with a greenhouse that lets vegetables stand up against Kansas City winters. Stony Crest has 12,000 square feet of high tunnels, or unheated greenhouse extension structures, he says.

The couple plans to bring someone on in the fall to help them manage the urban farm’s ever expanding operations.

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