A Letter From Farmer Theo

A Letter From Farmer Theo

Theo Bunch leads our Build Trybe team, teaching our students the practical skills of tending to plants while also being a mentor and role model to them. Here's a beautiful letter he wrote about a typical day on the farm site at our Gillis Campus.

I’m outside in the sun at the garden, sitting at our long farm table. A group of eight youth just finished making nachos in the outdoor kitchen that hugs the wall behind me. They seared lean hamburger on the grill and added lettuce, spinach, and fresh onion and greens picked from the garden not 10 minutes before they began cooking.

No experience could be more local, fresher, more sustainable or more enlightening to a student then the farm-to-table experience that they have created here. The smell of the food mixes with the smell of grass being cut by Darrin*.

Darrin is learning landscaping and horticulture through working on the farm, keeping the space looking clean and sharp for the other students and our community of volunteers, mentors and the many campus visitors. He is wearing a bright green bandana — our farm crew uniform — with the Cornerstones of Care logo facing out and two stripes painted next to it. The stripes represent his progress on the farm: that he has gone through our safety trainings, shown leadership and taught others. They tell me and everyone else that he works hard, intelligently and follows directions. He is moving the mower slowly around our wind turbine tower — the same tower that charges the mowers batteries — singing a Kendrick Lamar song loudly as he goes. 

Six years ago, this program did not exist. The area now full of things grown and built by the youth and our hard-working staff was nothing but dirt piles and grass. We began with a few raised beds, and from there expanded to fruit trees, row crops, an outdoor classroom, kitchen and picnic area, composting, wind turbine tower, native rain gardens and more.

More importantly, through this site we met new friends. Groups of mentors and volunteers work alongside my young farmers, teaching our youth and making the work easier. Most importantly, they share stories about their lives and listen to my kids’ stories with a gentle ease one finds over a shared task.

We have now partnered and collaborated with some of the most exciting nonprofits that Kansas City has to offer in the realm of food equity and youth empowerment. Nourish KC chefs cook with our kids weekly, and BoysGrow farmers come and run horticulture and building trade classes. Cultivate KC advises us and Kansas City Community Gardens is always present and always helpful.

We have gone from an underutilized and shabby plot behind our school building to a little micro village — to a space that produces food for our community and teaches health and valuable vocational skills. It is something our youth can be proud of, and when they walk folks through the space they show them what they built and what they grow.

The most exciting part to me now is where we are going. We are still in our infancy, with more youth wanting to get involved every season. Our ability to grow good food and help our community expand daily. Soon we will begin offering after-school programming for our youth in foster care and will have a network of community kitchens, farms and real-world learning sites for our kids to connect with. Our farm sites will continue to improve, and our curriculum and programs will only get better.

Darrin has wandered over and is reading this as I write. He would like to make a correction. He was not singing Kendrick Lamar, but a Childish Gambino song. He also would like to request that someone come and help him weed the strawberry beds sometime on a Thursday.

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*Names have been changed to protect the youth's identity.