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.
Growing from a start of three raised beds to several thousand square feet of tilled garden beds, the Quindaro Rally Garden celebrates its third anniversary of giving free berries, potatoes, greens and fresh vegetables to anyone in the neighborhood who needs to stop by and pick healthy food.
Creation of the Rally Garden was the inspiration of a pair of Kansas City, Kansas residents – Aaron Marks and Terrell Dyer – and its success now fuels dreams of possibilities to expand into an aquaponics/hydroponics greenhouse to add fish and year-round vegetable production to provide more for their community.
With continuing support from Kansas City Community Gardens – seeds, plants, fertilizer, pest control, mulching, assessing water supply options and infrastructure development – Marks and Dyer have parlayed the KCCG assistance and the neighborhood’s sweat equity into an invaluable Community Partner and Youth Garden for a community in need.
“Last year we had 30 tomato plants – five different kinds of tomatoes on offer,” Marks said. “We dug some 80-100 pounds of potatoes. We use PVC pipe to grow spices vertically. We grow several different ways to maximize what we can produce in the area we have. Up to this point, we have relied on Kansas City Community Gardens for all our seeds/plants.”
Marks estimates more than 60 neighborhood families harvest produce from the garden during the growing season. More people also benefit. Project Rally members and volunteers visit the garden daily to tend to the garden, meeting mostly Sundays and Wednesday evenings to Harvest and Weed the garden. Produce is delivered to various community members and others who may not have transportation to the garden. Wilson’s Pizza, a local entrepreneur, features Rally Garden tomatoes and other vegetables he’s picked for his pizza restaurant.
The last Saturday in July the neighborhood gathered to celebrate the third Quindaro Area Rally Garden harvest with food, games for kids, demonstrations sharing tips for healthy eating.
Even after three years, considerable improvements, water and other improvement costs, all the garden produce is still free to anyone in the community who comes to pick a few things. While fencing was put up to discourage four-legged critters from ravishing the garden, it’s open to the neighborhood to come in when they need the food. Vegetables planted outside the fence let folks know there is fresh produce for them anytime they need something.
The neighborhood has no full grocery store and a convenience store is a drive away. But family households surround the garden on Alden Street that’s just steps away from homes.
“This situation kind of inspired our mission,” Dyer said. “Access to healthy food when people need it. We really want to establish a complete food system to supply our community year-round.”
Marks and Dyer collaborate in the Northeast Area Master Plan development, including efforts to create a co-op grocery store on Quindaro Blvd. Along with their aquaponics/hydroponics dreams to produce 10 times the food in a limited space without soil, the pair is exploring a viable way to create a food truck and route to reach more people in the community to offer garden produce. They believe their garden is making a difference, helping to build the community back up.
“When we first started going over to the garden, we heard gunshots from time to time,” Dyer said. “Now we don’t hear that, and the criminal activity seems to have moved on. More people are coming by and connecting. The garden’s a great place to run into your neighbors. Just like looking across the grocery store and seeing someone you haven’t seen in awhile and stopping to talk to each other.”
“The regulars really like what we’re doing,” Dyer said. “This was a disengaged, undeveloped community with not much to give. We couldn’t come in and start taking. We say we care about this community. We do it for everyone. This was our vision: get credibility and community support and together develop a community-based food system. We want to see that expand now to offer good food year-round.”
For Marks and Dyer, their niche is healthy food production with easy access for the community. They believe the Rally Garden’s success is inspiring others to join in rebuilding the community. They are part of the synergy growing in the Northeast KCK Midtown area along Quindaro. A youth group has organized to build affordable houses. A Black firefighters’ Association and the Historic Northeast Midtown Associations are instrumental in trying to get the co-op grocery store up and running that Marks and Dyer hope to help supply.
To learn more about Project Rally, visit Project Rally’s Facebook page.
KCCG offers low-cost resources for its Community Partner Gardens: seeds and plants, garden tilling, garden tools and supplies: tomato cages, straw, cotton burr compost, organic controls fertilizer. Technical Assistance includes help with site selection and site development planning, infrastructure needs such as fencing, water, raised beds structures, plant selection and planting plans. KCCG also helps facilitate group meetings to set the mission and vision for the garden as well as outreach plans to promote the garden in their community.
KCCG Community Partner Gardens staff assists community groups, faith-based organizations, neighborhood associations, & other non-profits with having successful vegetable gardens through technical assistance & access low-cost gardening resources. Click the button below to start a community garden!