Alan Young Sr. and his wife, Yolanda, didn’t set out to create a sprawling community farm when they moved to the Ivanhoe Neighborhood 35 years ago. They bought an empty lot near their home because they wanted a safe place for their children to play with the neighbors.
As the kids got older, they began to wonder what to do with the land.
“It all started with my wife’s backyard garden,” says Alan Young, 59. “After the kids grew up and left, we decided to expand our garden. People would walk up off the street and ask if they could get something. So we began selling our produce at neighborhood markets.”
Now the Young Family Farm bridges the significant divide separating the inner-city public from freshly grown produce. Their farm stand, at 3819 Wayne Ave. near Bruce R. Watkins Drive, is one of the few local businesses dedicated to addressing food insecurities in the urban core.
“In this area, the median household income is around $29,000 a year,” says Alana Henry, Young’s daughter who assists in running the farm. “There is a unique challenge people have to feed their families. The number of full-service grocery stores in this area is limited.
“Part of our mission is to alleviate some of that challenge with folks. There are convenience stores where you can buy liquor, soda pop and chips, but can you buy something fresh? No.”
With their main farm spanning almost a quarter of an acre right behind the Youngs’ home, the business has grown so much that the family also farms several other off-site plots. Before the season ended this past week, they were growing cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, carrots, beats, garlic and much more.
“The people love it, and they love the food. For the residents to see things here growing has been amazing, and I have only gotten positive feedback,” Young says.
As the business grew and diversified, the family began to notice that the demographic of those traveling to his inner city farm became more racially varied.
“There are different tastes we have to cater to since we serve different communities,” Henry says. “The white customers may want eggplant and kale. Black people may be looking for okra, collard greens, and peas. However, because of our nine lots, we can offer a greater variety of produce.”
Henry has watched the attitudes of many residents change toward organic eating.
“There is an increased awareness of how important organically grown food is and the difference in the taste and health benefits compared to the ones you buy in the store. So I would say part of what we want to do here is expose folks to new vegetables and provide education about how to prepare these vegetables,” she says.
Over the past four years, The Young Family Farm has carved out a respected name for itself in the community. They were not only being seen as one of the few providers of fresh produce at affordable prices but also as a community-based organization looking to create a new culture of residents excited about produce.
“I think the allure of our farm is we have reduced the transactional nature of food consumption,” says Henry. “We are not here to only sell vegetables; a relationship is happening. We give tours and help them with advice about starting their farms or gardens.”
Young operates the farm alongside his wife, four children and several grandchildren, with a few hired helpers to assist with the increase in demand.
“It is a family affair. I have four children, each of my brothers has one child, and they all participate. They love helping out and have their little garden where they make a mess,” Henry says, laughing.
Every Saturday starting in the spring and lasting until mid-October, the location holds a farmers market. Several local small businesses line the entrance, selling books, vegan baked goods, crafts, jewelry, homemade spice blends and honey harvested at the farm.
The Youngs were happy to open their doors to local vendors, including Henry’s brother-in-law, Joshua Henry, the owner of Marcie’s Backyard Honey. As he operated his booth at the final market of the year last Saturday, handing out samples of his organic honey, he reflected on how the farm brings people together.
“I have four hives here. My dad kept bees, and I started and enjoyed it. You see people from all over come here and enjoy the food and the community,” says Henry.
The family held its first fundraiser to wrap up the year’s harvest, bringing in local chefs to use local produce to create an all-natural multi-course gourmet dinner Saturday night. The Young Family Farm Harvest Dinner was an endeavor to raise money for operational costs like improving their production area for food, fencing for other lots, and additional staffing for next summer.
Nadine Moss, a pastry chef who also works the farm picking and processing produce, volunteered her time for the event. She moved to Kansas City from Colorado a year ago, and after working her first season on the land, she fell in love with the location and saw an opportunity to stay involved with the community and practice her culinary skills.
“When I first moved to Missouri, I decided I would get into farming to see the other side of food production,” says Moss. “I started volunteering with them, which led to a full-time position, and now I can help them with my cooking,” she said as she plated food and assembled BLT sliders.
Moss was one of four chefs lending their talents to feeding guests at the event, putting together an all-local spread. In addition to Moss’ mini biscuit BLTs, menu items included rosemary focaccia, roasted kabocha squash, hickory smoked chicken and pulled pork ribs. Moss has been cooking professionally for the past 15 years, following in her mother’s footsteps, serving her sweet potato cheesecake for dessert.
“I love working here. Every day puts a smile on my face, and the Youngs are constantly giving back to the community. They are inspirational people who have changed the landscape of the area, and they are teaching people the importance of healthy eating and making nutritious food available,” says Moss.
With the event bringing together a large number of people of all ages and races from around the metro, the night was a display of community and bonding through food. In addition to the dinner, there was also a silent auction with items donated from local organizations such as the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Kansas City Black Urban Growers, The Black Pantry, Black Owned Business KC, Ruby Jeans Juicery, KC Currents, and Vine Street Brewing Co., to name a few.
The evening was capped off with music performances by Young family member and recording artist AY Young, along with local singer Mimi Nichole performing their new song “Ayo.” The Young Family Farm saw the first of what they hope will become an annual event focusing on bringing together the best of local food, commerce, and entertainment.
For information about next season’s offerings, follow Young Family Farm KC on Facebook.