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Urban farm plants seeds of community in North Blue Ridge

Neighborhood welcomes Mayor Quinton Lucas for tour
Mayor Lucas in North Blue Ridge
Mayor Lucas neighborhood tour
Posted at 10:28 PM, Jun 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-02 23:57:40-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sometimes it's unexpected to find a farm in an urban setting, but that's what you'll find in the North Blue Ridge neighborhood.

Pepper Berries Urban Farm is green and vibrant and full of life. Roosters run freely, goats lounge on a play set and rabbits munch on greens. Juicy, red tomatoes are starting to come in, as well as 13 different types of garlic.

The farm is in the back of Beaumont Baptist Church. It's not just the fresh fruits and vegetables they're cultivating, but also a stronger sense of community.

Christine Williams heads up the farm with volunteers and church leaders. Their mission to rid the community of the weeds reaches further than a literal sense.

"This is to teach people how to garden and then after that we have a program for three years," Williams said. "Our whole farm is about, what can you grow in an urban setting?"

They help people figure out which style of urban gardening fits their lifestyle, whether it's hill gardening, container gardening or pallet gardening. People will learn how to maintain it, control the weeds and figure out how to grow enough for their families. Eventually, they learn how to can and look into selling their produce at farmers markets.

"My belief is that everyone should garden for many many reasons," Williams said. "Not just for your health. It fights depression."

Pastor Shane Coburn said they've opened the church and the farm to people who don't have many opportunities.

"They help with the grounds. We eat together. They help with the animals. They help with certain projects we have at the church," Coburn said. "It's an awesome thing to feed people. They're happy, they have a purpose, they have something to do."

Coburn said he wants to bring in students from urban schools to teach them about gardening and getting outside.

Right now, they're building a community kitchen at the church to hold classes on how to cook with food people have grown themselves.

This community growth happens every day, but on Wednesday, Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas stopped by.

He toured the neighborhood with a few residents on a hayride pulled by a tractor.

"Who gets to do a hayride on Independence Avenue and Blue Ridge? I've never even thought of such a thing," Lucas said.

They stopped by Winner Park, talked with the superintendent at Kansas City International Academy and visited other areas of town that need attention.

"We spend a lot of time saying what we think is right for neighborhoods," Lucas said. "I think there's nothing more important than listening to the people who are actually in them."

Lucas said his goal is to visit every neighborhood in Kansas City, of which there are more than 200, to get a feel for their needs, triumphs and challenges.

In North Blue Ridge, the neighborhood association is trying to revitalize the dozens of vacant lots and cut out drug houses and trash dumping.

They said they've made strides in the past few years.

Jan Herrington, president of the neighborhood association, told the mayor their goal is to help people purchase more of the vacant properties next to their homes to turn into community gardens or a better use of space.

"You've seen just in this short time we've been with people today, investments by folks in the neighborhoods for those who are unhoused, investments by folks in the neighborhood in rehabilitating housing," Lucas said. "So I think a lot of what [the city] can do is supporting those efforts that are already going on."

Lucas said the city can work on making Land Bank properties more affordable and accessible to people who need them and beefing up its response to illegal dumping.

If Blue Ridge can find a slice of heaven at the farm, the neighbors believe it can be done everywhere.

"Then they're going to be able to fight from the inside out of all the crime and disease and everything that's going on around us right now," Williams said.