Man hopes urban farming can transform Kansas City neighborhood

Posted at 2:28 PM, Dec 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-18 15:28:11-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At the dinner table, many people simply assume the food on their plate came from a farm way out in the country. But more and more, the fruit and vegetables grow just down the block. 

It’s called urban farming. And farmers say the appeal goes beyond buying local.

During a tour of Kansas City's Pink Pony Farm, it looks a lot bigger than two city lots. Plums, tomatoes, garlic and berries grow at the farm near 10th Street and Prospect Avenue. 

"The spacing is really tight," admitted farmer Jeff Helkenberg. 

But there's just enough space for him and his wife to work out their calling. 

"It's hard to quantify what that is, but it's a feeling," he described what he loves about farming. "And the feeling is positive. It feels good."

Helkenberg said urban farming spreads that good feeling beyond the farm. First, it fights blight in areas like KC's east side.

"The idea there is that people will suddenly have an unconscious feeling that things are improving. And that's part of what we think urban farming can do," the farmer explained. 

Secondly, he grows the products to make products like these jellies. Thanks to an update in Missouri's cottage industry law this year, he can now sell his goods both in person and online. He created the “Farmer at your Door” program.

"Consumers can touch their food, they can actually connect with the source of their nutrition," he explained.

Finally, Helkenberg is trying to figure out if his farm can save you money on your energy bill. Through a KCP&L grant, Helkenberg is studying how much trees can cool a neighborhood, thus requiring less electricity to run air conditioners.

"Those two world overlap where the trees exist," he pointed out. 

The Pink Pony Farm isn’t one of a kind. The USDA reports more urban farmers have turned a hobby into a commercial enterprise. Helkenberg embraces the competition, he believes more farms can make a bigger difference.