KansasCity.com: Urban homesteaders plant seeds of change in Kansas City
Jason and Candy Fields’ backyard in the Lykins neighborhood — one of the most blighted areas in Kansas City — is a patchwork quilt of urban farming ventures.
There are a vegetable garden fertilized with nutrient-rich fish waste and a lush swath of bamboo stalks waiting to be dried and used to stake tomato plants or to build a tree house or a lightweight bicycle.
Towering sunflowers wear paper grocery sacks draped over their heads, an effort to keep the birds away so the mature seeds can be roasted, then eaten as a snack. There’s a playhouse-turned-chicken coop for heritage breed hens.
On the driveway, tilapia swim in an aquaponics system fashioned from recycled, food-grade plastic drums that takes up as much space as an average living room. Fragrant basil grows in rock beds above the drums, cleaning the water for the fish while the nutrient-rich fish waste fertilizes the basil, all without the use of soil.
Nearby, duckweed grows in kiddie wading pools. The inexpensive, high-protein, easy-to-grow food for fish resembles green pond scum. A biodigester constructed from more plastic drums converts 800 pounds of restaurant and household food scraps into methane that could heat a greenhouse.
Word of these innovative, low-tech farming experiments has traveled rapidly through local food circles. One steamy weekend in late June, almost 300 people milled around the “Myrtle Plot” at the corner of 12th and Myrtle streets. The plot was a featured stop on the Urban Farms and Garden Tour sponsored by Cultivate Kansas City, a nonprofit that helps people learn how to grow food in urban settings.
Much of that grassroots popularity is a result of social media. Using his iPhone, Jason Fields routinely posts cleverly produced how-to or slice-of-life videos to www.theurbanfarmingguys.com. More than 8,000 people “like” the website and Facebook page, and their “Farmin’ in the Hood” video has gotten 47,000 views on YouTube since its debut last spring.
The idealistic newlyweds decided to ditch their comfortable suburban lifestyle, if not their sense of humor, in 2008. Only half-joking, they recall how they worried that the drug-dealing squatter came with the foreclosed property they bought for $21,000. ...
... These urban homesteaders are mostly white 20- to 40-somethings. Most also are members of the Rock, a nondenominational Christian church founded in 1999 with loosely affiliated networks of house churches in Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming, Texas, Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina.
The Rock’s mission is to “plant” house churches throughout the inner city so members can live in and work with the communities they are trying to serve. On the face of it, their tactics for revitalizing a racially mixed, economically depressed neighborhood are simple: walk the neighborhood streets, make eye contact and open your heart.
“The biggest problem in this neighborhood is fear,” Jason Fields says. “There’s a spirit of hope and community when you decide not to hide from this and own it. … Something happens when you’re in something together. You meet people you wouldn’t have met otherwise, and it turns into really deep friendships.” ...