This story was contributed by Martha Walker, retired newspaper and United Press International wire service reporter who also worked 22 years in corporate communications and market research.
Forty-two years ago, a young Korean girl arrived in Kansas City, Kansas and began putting down roots that bound her to the community for decades. The St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Garden on south 8th Street became a key community opportunity for Jung Kim.
“I love it, love it, love it and the people there too,” said Kim who manages her business and still makes time to tend three plots at the garden. “I have been gardening there 10 years. I now just work part-time at the laundromat so there is plenty of time to work at the garden.”
She grows onions, peppers, lettuce and other greens, a Korean cabbage and sesame, relying on Kansas City Community Gardens for plants and seeds, and acquiring a few special things from the Asian market to grow to complement her cooking.
“I love organic vegetables – no chemicals,” the sexagenarian said, noting that her three organic beds, each 48 square feet, require a good deal of care and weeding two or three times every week. “It’s not easy; my body aches. I go to the garden early in the morning when it is cooler.”
Kim said St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Garden partners – Kansas City Community Gardens, Kansas City, Kansas and Wyandotte County Unified Government – have helped sustain the garden. Framed, raised beds make the plots easier to work, the addition of a dependable water source for the garden and some fencing have been significant improvements for those working the 34 plots at the 3,000 square foot lot.
Kim raises plenty of organic vegetables to see her through spring and fall growing seasons and shares her harvest with a group of best friends. She said she benefits a bit on her grocery bill, and from the exercise caring for the garden. But the community connections are invaluable.
“I love the people at the garden,” Kim said. “Most every year there are some new, different people there but most of the people have been gardening there a long time. We talk to each other and sometimes we have little meetings to talk and we bring things from our gardens to share.”
Pat Lawson was instrumental in coordinating the garden’s development 20 years ago, still gardens at St. Joseph’s and helps maintain the plots as well as liaise with partners to acquire improvement grants and ensure accountability for investments. Lawson said the garden plots are available when vacated to anyone in the St. Joseph’s Neighborhood community bounded by Central Avenue, 10th Street, Interstates 70 and 670. Today’s gardeners reflect the diverse community including natives of Korea and Vietnam..
Lawson said the gardeners have shared vegetables with a nearby apartment for the elderly, with the Wilhelmina Gill Multi Service Center, and dozens of other friends, family and community residents – perhaps benefiting near 100 Kansas City Kansans during growing seasons.
The St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Garden project and its partnerships were such a success that Lawson said the neighborhood was inspired to collaborate with Giving Grove, Kansas City Community Gardens and Wyandotte County Unified Government again to develop a small orchard a few blocks away at a park in the neighborhood, expanding fresh produce benefits for the community.