To contact a KCCG staff member, email them at their address below or call us at 816.931.3877 and enter the extension below.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext: 301
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.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 306
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.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 323
Jennifer Fink’s favorite part of working in fundraising is the opportunity to connect donors and volunteers with programs and projects that inspire them and fuel their passions. As Director of Development, she gets to do just that, and see first-hand the impact that their gifts have on those whom KCCG serves. Jennifer holds a bachelor’s degree in Piano Performance and served at fine arts and health care organizations before coming to KCCG, where she reconnected with a love of growing that stems from her childhood on a farm in central Kansas. When she’s not at work, Jennifer can be found curled up with a good book or outside, exploring Kansas City’s trail system with her husband and son.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 311
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.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 300
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.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 300
“Just Keep Learning” is a mantra Colleen Freeman has embraced her entire life. Colleen was raised in a military family and grew up all over the world. After retiring from teaching high school last year, she spent more time in her flower garden at home but wanted to learn more about vegetable gardening. When her sister mentioned KCCG had Americorps service positions open she jumped at the opportunity to be surrounded by knowledgeable gardeners all day!! She was familiar with Americorps volunteers because they were very involved at the school where she worked. Her nephew, a recent college grad, was also serving with Americorps. Colleen has now joined KCCG giving a year of service. Most of the time she can be found at the front desk. She enjoys meeting and helping KCCG members and staff each day. Best of all, she is excited to be a full-time volunteer, giving back to the community in a way that helps improve the quality of life for families and individuals in the metropolitan area and learning about growing vegetables!
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 319
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.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 316
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.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 307
Claire Sinovic’s passion for gardening stems from summers spent on her grandparents’ farm as a child. One of her favorite tasks was helping her grandma harvest herbs they would use for cooking dinner and she loves passing that same joy on to the kids she works with as they make their own plant to plate connection. After earning her undergraduate from Washburn University in Topeka, KS she taught English and volunteered in Southeast Asia for about a year. She’s been a preschool teacher, camp director, teen program manager, garden educator, and nutritional health coach. In each role, she created programs that emphasized gardening, nutrition, and overall wellness and furthered her passion for connecting people to nutritious food. Some of her favorite pastimes include cooking with friends and family, collecting stamps in her passport, and hiking with her husband, son, and loveable pup.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 310
Lauren is originally from Kansas City, and completed her undergraduate degree at Indiana University. Lauren's love for gardening, fresh veggies, and the environment is a reflection of the years she spent working on organic farms in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Beyond the fields, Lauren expanded her focus from farm to factory production as the Assistant Production Manager at Taza Chocolate in Somerville, MA. Upon her return to Kansas City, Lauren joined the KCCG team as a Beanstalk Children's Garden Assistant. Lauren is excited to continue her learning and growth at KCCG while serving as a Missouri Healthy Foods AmeriCorps member with the Schoolyard Gardens team.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 314
As a social worker, Anna believes that gardening among neighbors and within community is one of the most rewarding ways to live a socially, emotionally and mentally healthy life. Anna received her bachelor’s degrees in Sociology and Spanish from St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN and her Master’s in Social Work from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, NM. Her social services work has encompassed working in transitional and low-income housing, community organizing in the U.S.-Mexico border region and working with families to access community resources. At KCCG, Anna works to build relationships with over 200 community organizations and non-profits to have successful vegetable gardens and increase community engagement. Anna enjoys hiking and gardening with her husband Joey, pal’ing around with friends and family, and relaxing with their dogs, cat and chickens.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 304
Throughout the years Amanda Woolley’s love of nature has taken many forms. From visiting prairies in the summers, to growing ornamental plants in the greenhouse, and now helping others grow gardens, her experiences in the green industry vary widely. She joined the Community Partner Gardens team with a desire for helping others and with her bachelor’s degree in horticulture production from Kansas State University. Her passion lies in helping others learn about gardening and empowering them to start their own gardens, especially in underserved and underrepresented communities. Outside of work you can find her spending time with family and friends, finding new places to eat, or working on one of her craft projects.
Phone : 816.931.3877 - Ext 328
Priest is a husband, father and grandfather. He is a poet, actor, educator, community advocate and 20 year KCCG member. He believes gardening encompasses a philosophy that informs his lifestyle and what better way to say it than in a poem:
My heart, mind and body’s health begins and ends with my personal relationship with my environment and nature. I am grounded tilling and planting stability. My garden home is a sanctuary to bear fruit, a place where attention to others, my plants, waters growth regularly. I listen to my seedlings’ body language, this fertilizer from futures sown individually and collectively must be nurtured according to its need despite its color, size or its branches in comparison to others in this same bed we all ripen in. I stake sprouts to support development under the weight of bearing fruit. I pull weeds overcrowding foundation’s plot in life. I realize pruning is letting go to increase my yield. In the end I recognize this ecological buffet in good taste provided a plate for all insects, animals, pest, people and the land since compost transformed waste. Service as an AmeriCorps Volunteer with Community Partner Gardens compliments my gardener’s state of mind.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 315
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.
Phone : 816.931.3877 - Ext 317
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.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 305
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.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 321
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.
Abby spent most of her childhood playing with her brother and sister in the woods behind their house. She had a deep love for nature and plants, but wasn’t always the best at keeping them alive. This changed her senior year at Kansas State University when she discovered her passion for gardening. The small garden she started on her porch quickly became a sanctuary and escape from the stress of balancing school and work. As a student pursuing Human Nutrition she knew the importance of consuming a balanced diet, but was frustrated to see how hard it could be for people struggling to make ends meet. Abby feels honored to serve as an AmeriCorps volunteer in the Beanstalk Garden and work with such an amazing an organization that promotes growing healthy food throughout the community. She loves seeing children’s faces when trying a tomato right from the vine or hearing a fresh pepper “crunch” as they bite into it. Abby hopes one day to attend graduate school for Cardiovascular Perfusion and pursue a career helping children born with congenital heart defects.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 302
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.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 320
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.
Phone : 816.931.3877 - Ext 318
When Rob Shoffner needs a break from the computer screen, you can often find him outside -- camping, hiking, or playing whiffle ball with his 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.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 313
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.
Phone : 816.931.3877 - Ext 312
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.
Mary Jane Meirose
Phone : 816.931.3877 - Ext 303
Mary Jane credits her curiosity and passion for the environment to her education at Belmont University, where a professor introduced her to the importance of healthy soil, regenerative agriculture, and America’s food system. With a degree in Corporate Communication, Mary Jane began her career in Executive Recruiting, but quickly traded her corporate desk job for sunny days in our Giving Grove orchards. As Community Engagement Coordinator, Mary Jane spends her days caring for the orchards, empowering our volunteers, and finding new ways to champion the local community. When not in the office or an orchard, you’ll find Mary Jane at the climbing gym, going for hike, or relaxing in her hammock.
Phone: 816.931.3877 - Ext 308
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.