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.
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.
Hannah’s passion for people, good food, and care for the earth grew out of her experiences at home, in the classroom, and in community. Hannah received her bachelor’s degree from William Jewell College in Liberty, MO and her Master’s at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. At KCCG Hannah works with K-12th graders to grow vegetable gardens at schools throughout the Kansas City area. Hannah loves creating space for hands-on experiential learning in the gardens and hearing kids shout “I grew this!” When not at work, Hannah can be found enjoying a good cup of coffee, going on a walk with her spouse, cooking a meal with friends, or relaxing with her family.
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.
Taylor Simpson was a volunteer for Schoolyard Gardens and when the Americorps Service Member position opened up, she hopped right on it. She's incredibly passionate about educating children about healthy food and sustainable change in the way we eat. As a chef, Taylor also incorporates her cooking skills in the classroom. After graduating from the University of Chicago, she spent a year doing a Fulbright Scholarship in Malaysia teaching English and then decided to start pursuing her dream of becoming a chef! Since then, she has cooked at restaurants across Kansas City including Nara and Julep, as well as started her own food blog and YouTube channel called Two Shakes of Happy. Along with cooking, she also loves to play basketball! Taylor was an All-American basketball player at University of Chicago. Be on the lookout for Taylor at your local schoolyard garden!
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.
: Serving her second AmeriCorps tenure, Sarah Kaldenberg has been involved in gardening or farming in three different states and with a variety of organizations. She has always had a passion for helping other people and has dedicated much of her time volunteering at different agencies. Her interest in the environment, science and public health led her to complete her bachelor’s degree in horticulture at Iowa State University. Sarah believes that growing your own food is empowering. You can find her getting her hands dirty in the Beanstalk Children’s Garden.
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 Swope Park.
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 Coordinator, 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. She loves starting the plants from seed and watching them throughout the growing process. For Stacy, gardening is a way to honor her mother and she 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 usually 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. She joined Kansas City Community Gardens in 2016 as staff for the Beanstalk Children’s Garden. In her 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.
Tracy Flowers became a part of the Giving Grove as the horticulturist assistant in the fall of 2018. After earning her B.S. in Horticulture at Penn State she worked in the green industry in the Pittsburgh area, most notably at the Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden. Tracy’s move to Kansas City in 2005 brought her to Powell Gardens and the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden where she found a love of connecting with the community through gardening lectures, writing botanical articles for local publications, social media and volunteering. At home Tracy loves to garden and was awarded the Garden Club of Kansas City’s 2009 Horticultural Excellence Award. When she isn’t pulling weeds, Tracy enjoys performing in musical groups around Kansas City and traveling with her husband Charles.
Carter has joined the Giving Grove team for a year through the AmeriCorps Program. He first learned about the Giving Grove through his Eagle Scout project where he worked in tandem, creating a community garden and orchard at a local church. For the last four years the University of Arkansas was home for Carter, where he studied International Relations and the Middle East as well as Spanish and Arabic. During his time at school, he was inspired by professors to explore the world of sustainable agriculture and ways to improve food security. Carter has a hunger for learning languages, understanding cultures, and gaining international experience. In his time with the Giving Grove, he hopes to learn how to get an orchard running on his own and how to better engage his community. When not trying to learn every step in creating an urban orchard, you can find him playing tennis, cheering on the Chiefs and Sporting KC, testing new recipes, or searching for the world’s greatest barbeque.
Erin’s passion for growing food inspired her to help start a garden program at her daughters’ elementary school. It was that same passion that brought Erin to Kansas City Community Gardens. 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 in her community and gardening with her daughters. She particularly enjoys growing carrots because she loves the array of colors and shapes not commonly found in the grocery store.
Angie has always loved helping people and has been working at it for 27 years through the Red Cross, disaster relief, and homeless populations. She has always had a passion for gardening and comes from a long line of gardeners. She is used to caring for acres of gardens ever since she helped in her grandparent’s garden in Alabama as a child.