One of Ben Sharda’s favorite aspects of working with Kansas City Community Gardens is seeing the people he’s helped have success with gardening. Ben came to KCCG in 1989 and spent his first few years doing outreach before stepping into his current position as Executive Director. During his time with KCCG, Ben has witnessed the dramatic growth of the organization, including new programs, more staff members, and an increased capacity to serve the wider Kansas City community. Ben received his bachelor’s degree in horticulture from the University of Missouri. He has devoted more than three decades to sharing his expertise with the community through gardener education, garden development and leadership, and public presentations on community gardening and food and water
access issues. Besides gardening, Ben enjoys both watching and playing baseball, watching old movies, and spending time with his wife and kids.
Since joining the Kansas City Community Gardens staff in 2016, Courtney Foy has helped plan and coordinate several different KCCG fundraisers including Gardens at Sunset and Holidays in Crestwood . As Grants Manager, Courtney is also responsible for writing grants and cultivating donor and corporate sponsor relationships. Courtney loves the inclusive environment at KCCG and that any individual, regardless of income, can be served by KCCG programs. Courtney received her bachelor’s degree in sociology and women’s studies before earning a graduate certificate in grantsmanship from the University of Missouri. After a long day on the computer, Courtney enjoys doing hands-on artwork like photography, knitting, or jewelry making. Although she doesn’t have a backyard garden, she has turned her apartment balcony into an herb garden filled with rosemary, thyme, and parsley.
When Earlene Franks joined the Kansas City Community Gardens staff 23 years ago, she was one of three employees in the office. Now, the KCCG staff is nearing 30, and Earlene remains a reliable and knowledgeable resource on all things KCCG. As the Office Manager, Earlene does a variety of front office work including membership sign-ups, seed orders, and management of KCCG finances. Earlene enjoys interacting with the gardeners, young and old, that come through the front door. Her huge backyard features a garden that requires most of her free time, but she still enjoys reading when she gets the opportunity.
Phil Meyer received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Wichita State University, but after working as an accountant for five years decided the office world wasn’t for him. As the Garden Manager for Kansas City Community Gardens, Phil gets to be outside almost every day and engage in hands-on, physical work -- a much better fit for him. He manages KCCG’s rental plot program , including all eight KCCG-run community gardens, and maintains KCCG facilities. Phil’s passion for the outdoors began at a young age when he spent many summers helping out at his grandparent’s farm. Now, he owns an acre-and-a-half of land that he fills with different varieties of fruits and vegetables. When not maintaining a garden, Phil enjoys “tinkering” with random projects, playing golf, and spending time with his two girls.
During the growing season, Izola Pickett is most likely the smiling face you see at the front desk when you walk in the door. As part-time Front Office Assistant, Izola is responsible for helping people complete their purchases, buy gardening memberships, and find answers to their gardening questions. Izola is passionate about her work at Kansas City Community Gardens -- she enjoys helping people and loves working with the KCCG staff. When not behind the front desk, Izola works as a Mary Kay consultant and visits elderly people at their homes. She maintains her own gardens as well, making sure to share her extra produce with friends, family, and members of the KCCG staff.
About twenty-five years ago, Betty Burry heard Kansas City Community Gardens Executive Director, Ben Sharda, speak at a garden club meeting and it “knocked her socks off.” Since that fateful day, Betty has served many roles at KCCG including board president and more recently as Development and Marketing Assistant. Betty has been heavily involved in the planning and management of KCCG events, such as the annual Gardens at Sunset fundraiser. She received her bachelor’s degree in marketing communications from Rockhurst University, her master’s degree in public administration from Kansas University, and has years of work experience in various forms of public administration. At home, Betty enjoys filling her backyard with a variety of native flowers like black-eyed susans and purple cone flowers and is building a dollhouse from scratch.
In December of 2016, MaryAnna Henggeler graduated with a master’s degree in public health -- a passion that grew out of her work as Schoolyard Gardens Coordinator with Kansas City Community Gardens. During her six years with the SYG program, the number of schools has increased from 84 to 202 and the staff has doubled in size. MaryAnna loves getting kids in the garden and seeing them get their hands dirty as they learn to build and maintain the gardens themselves. In the office, she enjoys brainstorming and collaborating with her fellow people-driven co-workers, especially those involved in the SYG program. When not involved with school in one way or another, MaryAnna enjoys cooking (without the recipe, usually) and spending time with friends and family.
In 2015, Micah Wilkins began her time at Kansas City Community Gardens as an Americorps volunteer with the Schoolyard Gardens program. Following her year of service, she stayed on with KCCG as the Schoolyard Gardens Assistant. Micah received her bachelor’s degree in American history from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina before returning to her hometown of Kansas City to educate schools -- including her former elementary school -- about healthy growing and eating. Micah sees her return to the community as an opportunity to give back and invest in the community she grew up in. Micah enjoys cooking and writing, and utilized her background in writing to help establish and maintain the Schoolyard Gardens blog.
Crystal Fritz grew up gardening with her father and grandfather, and continues the gardening tradition in her backyard with her own children. Crystal came to the Schoolyard Gardens team with a passion for gardening and 14 years of experience in early childhood education. She combines those passions by providing support to the currently enrolled 60 preschools, and has worked to adapt Schoolyard Gardens lessons and activities to engage early education learners. Crystal might have the young learners look at bugs, pull out weeds, or dig in the dirt, but she usually just focuses on letting the kids explore and have fun in the garden. Crystal and her husband enjoy listening to and discovering new music and hanging out with their three kids.
Brandon Clay is passionate about educating others about food, so it seemed like spending his year with Americorps at Kansas City Community Gardens was the perfect fit. As the Schoolyard Gardens Assistant, Brandon helps lead school plantings, develops school curriculum, and occasionally uses his design background to help KCCG with assorted tasks. Brandon received his bachelor’s degree in industrial design from the University of Kansas, and has experience working as a teacher’s assistant for a KU design course. Brandon is looking forward to growing as both an educator and a gardener and helping students get excited about exploring the natural world. Brandon is “crazy about” cycling and enjoys making things and playing board games in his free time.
As the Community Partner Gardens Coordinator, Bobby’s work is focused on helping community gardens get the tools they need to be successful. For this reason, he has piloted a number of systems for Kansas City Community Gardens including an online planting and planning tool that helps gardeners map out their gardens for the upcoming growing season. Bobby has also been heavily involved with the development of KC Grow , a water assistance program that helps community groups and farmers access water for their gardens. Bobby has learned that it takes just as much time and effort to “grow community” as it does to grow vegetables, and believes in the importance of a widespread community commitment to make a community garden succeed. In his free time, Bobby enjoys singing and playing guitar and using his garden produce to make pickled okra and sauerkraut.
Sharon Goldstein’s passion is teaching people healthy ways to cook the produce they have grown. As Community Partner Gardens Coordinator, Sharon is responsible for conducting community outreach and education in Kansas City’s underserved neighborhoods to help start and expand community gardens. She loves that her work allows her to be involved in the larger Kansas City community. Sharon received her bachelor’s degree in Russian from the University of Kansas and an associate’s degree in culinary arts from the California Culinary Academy. Sharon teaches a variety of gardening and cooking classes and rarely teaches a cooking class without using one of her favorite vegetables: kale. She finds joy in sharing her cooking with friends, family, and coworkers and likes to read and travel when time allows.
Following college graduation, Christina Hofer relocated to Kansas City to serve as the Community Gardens Assistant through Mennonite Voluntary Services. She has helped lead tours in the Beanstalk Children’s Garden and performed tasks for the development and outreach team. She and coworker, Nikki Schaper, even painted over thirty gourds to sell at the annual Holidays in Crestwood fundraiser. A farm girl at heart, Christina is passionate about empowering people to grow their own food and is excited about the things she is learning at work. Christina received her bachelor’s degree from Goshen College in theater, with minors in writing, public relations, and international studies. Among other things, she enjoys singing, adventuring outdoors, and playing board games.
If the weather is passable, Shea Bergman will be on his bike, riding to and from work at Kansas City Community Gardens. As the Youth and Home Gardens Coordinator, Shea visits youth and home gardeners to help them get on their feet. He assists gardeners to determine where and how to grow their fruits and vegetables and is a trusty resource when gardeners need some gardening advice. Shea received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Hastings College and his master’s degree in biology from Fort Hays State University. Shea enjoys interacting with all KCCG gardeners and staff members, seeing his work as not only an opportunity to teach others, but to learn from them as well. He brings his love for gardening home by up keeping a garden with his family, including his two sons, Benji and Will.
In November of 2016, Gabriel Racca coordinated the first ever volunteer appreciation event for Kansas City Community Gardens. As Bilingual Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator , Gabe interacts with a wide variety of people, making it his objective to increase awareness of KCCG and, in particular, to increase Latino participation in KCCG programs in order to combat health and economic issues present within this demographic. Gabe is originally from Asuncion, Paraguay and came to Kansas in 2009 to pursue degrees in Political Science and Global International Studies at the University of Kansas. Gabe enjoys spending time with his wife -- going out to see movies and disc golfing in
Lois Hutchins may be retired after 32 years of teaching, but she still spends most of her days at Kansas City Community Gardens with kids. Lois is the head tour guide of the Beanstalk Children’s Garden and oversees the planting and maintenance of the garden each year. Since Lois joined the team, the number of annual visitors to the garden has doubled. Lois is passionate about utilizing the garden to educate people because she believes it has much to offer to children and adults alike. Lois received her bachelor’s degree in special education from Avila University and her masters in multicultural education from Webster University. When not at KCCG, Lois substitute teaches and takes Hebrew and photography classes.
Every plant that leaves Kansas City Community Gardens has been touched by Stacy Lasley. As the Greenhouse and Garden Assistant, Stacy is in charge of taking inventory of the seeds when they arrive, planting the seeds, and helping them germinate and grow by watering, thinning, and fertilizing the plants until they’re used or sold by KCCG. Stacy loves starting the plants from seed and watching them throughout the growing process. For Stacy, gardening is a way to honor her mother and does lots of it by keeping busy in the Beanstalk Children’s Garden and maintaining two personal garden plots. Stacy enjoys sharing her garden knowledge and fresh produce with her family, an important part of her life outside KCCG. She received her associate’s degree in applied sciences and horticulture from Johnson County Community College.
Every summer, Nikki Schaper’s parents would take her to a plant nursery to pick out a single plant to care for -- she almost always chose a flower. Nikki received her bachelor’s degree in Spanish language and literature from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, but has always had a passion for plants. In 2016, she began her full-time Americorps position with the Kansas City Community Gardens Beanstalk Children’s Garden . In this position, Nikki helps plant, tend, and harvest each plant in the garden and initiates preparations for the annual Fall Family Festival . She also leads tours through the garden, making sure to have the group stop and smell her favorite aromatic plant, Sweet Annie. When not at KCCG and spending time with her two cats, Nikki works with the Girls Scouts as a Team Leader for Outreach.
When Rob Shoffner needs a break from the computer screen, you can often find him outside -- camping, hiking, or playing whiffle ball with his 6-year-old son. Rob received his bachelor’s degree in film and video production at the University of Kansas. At Kansas City Community Gardens, Shoffner is able to combine his passions for nature and media development by creating media content like videos, websites, and brochures for people who are passionate about growing their own food. Rob is often the one behind the camera, taking the pictures that will eventually appear on social media and the KCCG website. In the past, Rob integrated his passions into his work by writing and editing KC sports websites for the Royals and the Kansas Jayhawks and producing concert documentaries and live music videos for local bands in the Kansas City and Lawrence area.
Before taking up his position as Giving Grove Executive Director, Rob Reiman worked for Deloitte Consulting for nearly 30 years, implementing technology systems and associated organizational improvements. Rob received his bachelor’s degree in computer science and his master’s degree in industrial administrative sciences from Iowa State University. He began his work with KCCG in 2012, when the Giving Grove program was barely a year old. Rob enjoys planting days when he has the opportunity to meet the individuals and families who care for the orchards or will benefit from them. At home, Rob has his own grove of about 40 edible trees and shrubs. He enjoys playing the guitar and gives his time to his church’s Giving Grove and a variety of other social causes.
Matt Bunch’s love for plants started at a young age when he helped his parents and grandparents plant and harvest their gardens. Matt received his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Kansas, but has been actively committed to the horticulture profession for over twenty years. As the horticulturist for the Giving Grove , Matt selects the fruit and nut varieties and advises site stewards on the best practices for growing fruits and nuts biologically in the Kansas City area. Matt continues his family tradition at home by growing natives and edibles with his wife and two children. He also happens to be an avid hiker and loves to explore the Kansas City wilderness, the Ozarks, and other new places.
Amanda Lindahl enjoys not only growing and cooking her own food, but fermenting it as well. Some of her favorite fermented delicacies include sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and kombucha (fermented tea). Amanda received her bachelor’s degree in bakery science and management from Kansas State University. In December of 2016, she completed her master’s degree in horticulture and urban food systems -- an area of study that feeds directly into her role as Giving Grove Community Engagement Coordinator. In this role, Amanda finds new sites for Giving Grove orchards, educates individuals on how to manage the orchards and utilize the produce, and helps communities get involved with the orchard. According to Amanda, Giving Grove’s main goal is to provide healthy food to neighborhoods in need and she is passionate about serving these diverse communities.
Kathy Jenkins Hart
Kathy Jenkins Hart first came to Kansas City Community Gardens in 2011 as the organization’s first Development Coordinator before joining the Giving Grove team as part time Giving Grove Development Director in 2016. Kathy received her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Missouri and her Master of Public Administration and Certificate in Nonprofit Organizations from the University of Georgia. As the Giving Grove program continues to grow, Kathy’s role is to connect with supporters and partners that will help The Giving Grove serve more food-insecure communities. She enjoys the fundraising aspect of her work, and also likes to join the Giving Grove staff outside for the occasional planting. Mom to Jake and Emma, Kathy enjoys writing and hiking. She has worked with nonprofits including The New York Public Library, Children’s Museum of the Arts, and Partnership Against Domestic Violence and also serves as a board member with the Platte Land Trust.
Originally from Sante Fe, New Mexico, Justin Lark first became interested in plants through his mother’s garden and authentic cooking. While working as a farm-to-table chef, he gained a passion for environmental stewardship, health, and the community. In 2014, Justin moved to Kansas City to pursue an individualized degree in Sustainable Horticulture and Nutrition. As the Giving Grove Horticulture Assistant, Justin is responsible for tending to the nursery plants, helping with plantings, and assisting stewards with their horticulture needs. He is thankful for the opportunities to be outdoors and engage with the Kansas City community. Justin can often be found outside, jogging around the neighborhood, foraging for native edibles, or tending to one of his garden plots.
Erin Besson’s passion for growing food inspired her to help start a garden program at her daughters’ elementary school in Lawrence, Kansas. It was that same passion that brought Erin to Kansas City Community Gardens in early 2017 as part-time Grants Writer. Erin received her bachelor's in organismal biology, as well as her J.D., from the University of Kansas, and her master’s degree in environmental policy from the University of Denver; she is a licensed attorney in Kansas. In her free time, Erin enjoys volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and growing food with her daughters. She particularly enjoys growing carrots because she loves the array of colors and shapes not commonly found in the grocery store.
While serving with Peace Corps in Bulgaria, Amy Eastin found a passion for community gardening. Her travels have taken her to 44 countries around the world and back to the Kansas City area to pursue school and work opportunities. Amy joined the KCCG team as the part-time _______ in 2017. In her position, Amy assists with media and corporate relations and helps coordinate KCCG fundraisers and events. Amy received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas in strategic communications with a minor in history and her Master of Public Administration from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, with a focus in nonprofit management. She gets excited about learning, especially learning about gardening, food preservation and sustainable living.