Cultivate Kansas City's Newsletter - August-September 2013
Homesteading in Kansas inspires, teaches and builds community
By Heather Cook, Intern at Cultivate Kansas City
About fifty miles apart, in Lawrence and Overland Park, respectively, local homesteaders Amy Saunders and Sherri Thomas use their gardens for more than just growing food. They are places where family and community gather, lessons are learned, and stories shared. Although considerably different in scope and size, both Amy’s Meats and Wild Willow Gardens produce fresh food and teachable moments in the garden, educating kids and prospective homesteaders alike.
Spread over 53 acres just outside of Lawrence, Amy Saunders, her husband, Dan, and their three children have built up their homestead over the past two and a half years, raising cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, honeybees, and a two-acre heirloom garden. Amy’s Meats at The Homestead provides a CSA for 20 families and holds community events.
Amy provides a summer camp for local kids where they have the chance to visit the homestead and make spaghetti or pizza – completely from scratch.
“[We] focus on teaching the kids just how long it takes to produce food…not taking it for granted because there’s a lot of work that goes into it,” said Amy. “I try to incorporate every little thing that we have.”
That includes making mozzarella from the farm’s milk and grinding the wheat for pizza crust dough. When asked what prompted the family to take such a community-oriented approach to homesteading, Amy said she saw people really struggling with food issues and felt she needed to share what she knew.
A resident of Overland Park for 15 years, Sherri Thomas and her husband have transformed their one-acre plot into a suburban oasis, complete with six honeybee hives, chickens, and numerous beds of vegetables, fruit trees, and berry bushes. A small, neat greenhouse acts as a gathering place for seedlings, potlucks and movie nights. A hoop house, put up during cooler months, provides Sherri and her family with greens year round.
During Cultivate Kansas City’s 2013 Urban Grown Farms & Gardens Tour in June, Sherri’s Wild Willow Gardens hosted some 500 visitors.
“What I use my garden for is mainly to teach, says Sherri, a former elementary science teacher.
She says that many of the neighborhood kids will come by to help plant or to nibble on stevia and kale. This spring she gave away 60 plants to people starting gardens. As a Master Gardener, Sherri spends about 40 hours a year volunteering, speaking on the importance and benefits of mixing edible plants with ornamental plants as a way for suburban families to approach homesteading that is both attractive and functional.
This month, Mother Earth News recently named Amy and Dan Saunders as one of their 2013 Homesteaders of the Year.
Mother Earth Homesteaders are, “dedicated to community-building—they open their doors to share the fruits of their labors and the knowledge needed to complete those labors.”
Ultimately, that might be the greatest accomplishment of farmers like Amy and Sherri–bringing families together and inspiring would-be gardeners to take those first steps towards actively engaging in their food system and becoming a little more self-sufficient.
For many of us, the idea of homesteading sounds fantastic in theory, but the process of transitioning to a more self-sufficient lifestyle can be intimidating, even overwhelming. Amy and Sherri are familiar with the feeling.
“It’s kind of like having kids. You’re never gonna be ready…you just have to go for it [and] start with something,” he said. “Every year we focus on one thing.”
This season, explains Saunders, that one thing has been the fruit trees and honey bees. Saunders also suggests that having chickens can be a good first step for those newbie-homesteaders looking to get their feet wet. But the Saunders have long-term goals, too, including a desire to “get off the grid and go solar…so we can be more and more sustainable.”
“We really are stewards of the land,” said Sherri. Amy agreed. “Mother Nature is out here doing her thing and it’s kind of awesome.”