KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Community Gardens' Tomato Days sale begins Thursday, offering families an affordable way to grow their own fresh and healthy produce.
The annual sale marks the unofficial start of summer planting season. Members can choose from a variety of discounted seeds, vegetables and herb plants.
Kansas City Community Gardens is a nonprofit with a mission of helping low-income households grow their own vegetable gardens, providing access to fresh and affordable health foods.
Executive Director Ben Sharda said they saw a huge spike in memberships during the pandemic.
"We saw a whole bunch of people who were just concerned about eating healthy, but also just finding some good healthy family activities that they could do together outside," Sharda said.
The organization's goal is to make gardening accessible to anyone and everyone who wants to try it.
Membership costs are based on household income and range from $2 to $25 per year.
Each member receives 10 seed packets and 10 pounds of organic fertilizer. They can also purchase more seeds, vegetable plants, fertilizer and gardening tools at discounted rates.
For those who do not have enough space for a garden at their home, they can sign up to rent a garden plot at one of the organization's nine locations across the Kansas City area.
Kansas City Community Garden also partners with other community groups and schools to build gardens at their locations.
Last year, the group supported more than 600 community and school yard gardens and orchard sites and more than 2,500 home gardens.
"The benefit is that people have better access to food," Sharda said. "But also, there's all the community building benefits when people are working together on projects or even just neighbors sharing produce over the back fence. There's just all kinds of opportunities for people to connect as they're growing food."
Longtime volunteer Roger Shelton called it one of Kansas City's best-kept secrets.
"I volunteer here every time I get a chance," Shelton said. "It's a wonderful place to volunteer."
Instead of keeping the produce he grows, Shelton gives it away to people who may not be able to grow their own gardens. Last year he gave away 1,400 pounds of produce, and 1,800 the year before. He said his goal this year is to give away one ton.
"I just enjoy seeing stuff grow," he said. "And I get a lot of satisfaction in giving stuff away and it makes me feel good."
If anyone is worried that they don't have the ideal growing conditions, Sharda said there may be more options.
For those who don't have a lot of space, container gardening could be a solution.
People can use any large container that's at least 12 inches across. This could be a large flower pot or a 5 gallon plastic bucket which can be bought at a hardware store.
The container should have draining holes on the bottom which prevents soil from getting too wet and roots of the plant to rot.
Certain vegetables do better in containers than others. This includes tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.
However, people should keep in mind that vegetables typically need full sunlight to grow, meaning at least six hours of sunlight per day.
For those who may not have lots of sunlight in their homes, there's still other options.
Certain root vegetables can grow in partial shade like beets, carrots and potatoes. Leafy greens tolerate low light the best, like chard, spinach and salad greens. People can also try growing herbs in partial sunlight like basil, mint and parsley.
Kansas City Community Gardens has several mini tutorials on its Facebook page, as well as free virtual workshops.
The next one is on May 7 on the topic of cooking with spring veggies. People can register on the Gardens' website.
For more information about signing up for a membership, people can click here.
Here's more infromation on Tomato Days 2021:
- What: a discounted sale of seeds, vegetables, and herbs, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, and more; sold in packs of 3 plants, limit of 10 packs per member
- When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., on April 29 , this event is for low-income households only
- When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 30, this event is open to all members
- Where: 6917 Kensington Ave, Kansas City, MO 64132
Memberships will also be available for purchase at the Tomato Days Sale.