Gibbs Road Farm was a prime example. A small rectangular slice of ground sandwiched between a residential area and I-635, the two-acre property has about an acre and a quarter in actual growing space, Smith said. It’s a far cry from Jefferson’s 640 acres or Lincoln’s infamous 40-acres-and-a-mule, both now deemed unrealistic by today’s standards. And yet farmers like Smith, DeVan and others are finding success, against the odds. Gibbs Road Farm annually maintains sales of $100,000, according to Cultivate Kansas City, making it one of the area’s largest vegetable producers.
Because of its pioneering status, the nature of urban farming appealed to Smith.
“I chose urban farming because I believe it’s one of those frontiers of agriculture that’s as unexplored as some of the other areas that we encounter,” he said.
The farm is certified organic and operates under Cultivate Kansas City, a larger umbrella organization established in 2005 with the goal of promoting urban agriculture. Since its inception, the organization has grown to seven full-time employees, numerous part-time staff and a budget of over $700,000. It’s also become active in local and state policy development, working with the city’s urban planning department and the city council to draft legislation supporting urban food production and food access.
The farm includes hoop houses, beehives and a 6,000-square-foot greenhouse partially rented to graduates of its Juniper Gardens Training Farm, a developmental program offering up to five years of hands-on training for beginning farmers or resettled refugees.
The young women harvesting tomatoes were apprentices of Growing Growers, a program Cultivate KC helped to establish which provides education to new and experienced growers through a farm apprenticeship program and an annual workshop series, Smith said.
“Each of them have their own agricultural idea, whether farming in their backyard or on nearby property that they’re developing into an economical support system, or simply to grow their own food and make themselves more sustainable,” he said. “The program here works with each of them to develop business plans and their models, to help them make connections with markets.”