NRCS Conservation Programs Help KC Farmers Gain Climate Resilience
Ca Saw is a New Roots program graduate and owner of Green Fresh Farm in Kansas City, Kansas. His path to farming was winding and uncertain, but from the time he was a child reading the only book in the library about growing food, he knew he wanted a future in agriculture. From Burma to Malaysia, and then finally the U.S. in 2015, Ca Saw faced cultural, financial, and even debilitating physical challenges before discovering the New Roots program in 2020. Ca Saw currently sells his produce through the New Roots Farm Share CSA and at the St. Paul Olathe Church Market and Lawrence Farmers Market.
Urban farmers face so many challenges- land access, weather, pest pressure, financial strain, and more- all of which may be amplified for new American or English Language Learner farmers. Recently, Courtney Hattaway, Cultivate KC’s Community Engagement Specialist, interviewed Farmer Ca Saw about his challenges and successes.
What made you decide to become a farmer?
Hobby- when I was 8 or 10 years old, I read a book about farming. I never wanted to have a factory job.
How long have you been farming?
I could never farm where I’m from because the government is really bad, it’s even harder to get land there, and there is no community support. Had no choice but to fly to Malaysia and take whatever job was available to send money home. Came to the US and was finally able to farm and find support.
How do you decide which crops to grow? And what is your favorite food to grow and eat?
My experience right now is that planting what grows well on its own and sells for more money is best. Lettuce mix, tomato, garlic and potatoes for example. I am selling at the Mission Farmers Market right now. It’s easier to make money with the CSA; You have a chance to make a little more money at the farmers market, but it takes more time. My favorite food to eat is broccoli! And to grow, tomatoes.
How many acres do you farm? Do you own a farm or lease it from someone else?
I have about a ½ acre at my house, ¼ acre at my brother’s house, and a ¼ acre at New Roots. I own this one (his property in KCK is a cozy home with a large yard for growing, and detached garage), my brother lets me farm at no charge, and I lease from New Roots.
Tell us about the advantages and/or challenges involved in farming in different locations:
Crop rotation is an advantage, but I waste a lot of time and gas travelling to my brother’s and New Roots.
Have you had difficulty gaining access to farmland? If so, how are you working to overcome this obstacle?
Yes. This house, I looked for almost 4 years to find. I’ve found other land, and people have offered their land for me to farm on but it’s too far away, has too many trees, is not good for growing, or has too many deer. There’s always something. It’s been really hard. The financial part is hardest. Land is very expensive and it’s very difficult to borrow from the bank.
Other than land access, what significant challenges do you face as a farmer?
WEATHER! Not the same every year. Season extensions make it hard- extreme heat, too much rain causing disease, no pests last year, but SO many this year. High tunnels would help but they’re so expensive.
What do you love most about farming?
It’s my hobby. I hate the idea of a factory job. FLEXIBILITY! The flexibility helps me to help my community- they don’t speak English and I’m able to go to appointments with them and be there for them.
What’s a recent accomplishment that you’re proud of?
Just staying through this year. Making it here without giving up, and not quitting to go to a factory job, even though I could make more money there.
Have you ever faced a time in your career when you thought about giving up farming? What kept you going?
Not weekly, not every day, but sometimes. Sometimes it’s a lot to farm and to help my community. It’s too much for me sometimes. If I had a factory job, it would be easier and I would be in the a/c. I would have vacation, but here there’s no vacation. This is my favorite hobby though, and that keeps me going.
What are your plans for the future of your farm?
My vision is to grow microgreens and mushrooms in the large garage on my property. I got a mini grant for a cooler in my garage. I’ve also applied for a grant with the NRCS to get a high tunnel on my property here at my house.
If you had to choose one thing for people to know about farming, what would it be?
PATIENCE. Don’t give up. There is a way. There’re always some people helping.
Resiliency propels Ca Saw’s accomplishments, and what he can’t achieve on his own, he’s got New Roots and community backing for help. This year alone, Ca Saw was able to receive training and supplies to address pest issues using Integrated Pest Management techniques through the NRCS Equity in Conservation Cooperative Agreement, was awarded a Cultivate KC Get Farming Mini Grant to build a walk-in cooler in his garage, and is awaiting decision on a NRCS EQIP grant to build high tunnel on his property. Despite his never-ending farm duties, he even managed to make time to join Cultivate KC and farmers from around the country in D.C. earlier this year to participate in the Rally for Resilience with farmers calling for agricultural policies that address climate change.
“My journey to becoming a farmer has not been easy. But that’s the thing about farmers—we are passionate about growing and are always hopeful that there will be new opportunities around the bend. Despite all the struggles we might face, there are two things you cannot eliminate—hope and passion,” he said in a recent presentation.
Cultivate KC is honored to be a part of his urban farming journey.