NRCS Conservation Programs Help KC Farmers Gain Climate Resilience

Posted on November 28, 2023 by Alicia Alferman

There’s no denying the profound impact conservation programs have had on urban farming in Kansas City, both sides of the state line. Ever-increasing unpredictable weather patterns have dealt chaos to our midwestern growers, and having tools readily available to combat these changes is critical for not only the future of small-scale urban farming, but for the future of food stability everywhere. These programs are responsible for mitigating pests and disease, extending growing seasons, and educating farmers how best to adapt their practices to a rapidly changing climate.  

Cultivate KC is a nonprofit organization committed to growing food, farms, and community in support of an equitable, sustainable, and healthy local food system for all. Our mission includes developing urban farms through technical assistance and guidance; the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program helps us to make climate resilient farm projects and their results far more attainable. 

Farmer Beh Paw and a group that repaired the Ki Ko Ko Farms EQIP high tunnel plastic.

Our first experience being a part of a NRCS EQIP high tunnel build was with Beh Paw Gaw and Pay Lay, sisters from Burma, also referred to as Myanmar, who resettled to the United States in 2007. They graduated from the Cultivate KC and Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas New Roots farmer training program in 2011 and went to work immediately, opening their farming business, Ki Ko Ko Farms on 2.5 acres in Kansas City, Kansas. Their farm is still thriving today, and Beh Paw says, the goal is to “be independent, live a good life, help the poor, be a good role model and don’t forget where you come from.” 

We assisted Bryon Postlethwait with his build after he received a NRCS EQIP grant for a high tunnel in 2019. Bryon’s urban farm was near the Independence Uptown Farmer’s Market, and in his own words, “The community wins because they get local food. I enjoy being out here, so I feel like I’m doing something better for the neighborhood.” 

Bryon Postlethwait and his EQIP high tunnel under construction.

In addition to Beh Paw Gaw and Pay Lay, there are several other New Roots graduates who were awarded NRCS EQIP grants for high tunnels on their properties. Bawi Hmung, whose farm is in Kansas City, Kansas, received grant funding for his high tunnel’s construction in December 2020 and was able to complete the project in less than a year. The structure is helping to lengthen his growing season and improve his crop yields, resulting in a stronger farm business for Bawi and more local, healthy produce for our community. 

l: Bawi Hmung and Zing Te during their EQIP after stretching plastic over the tunnel, r: Contstuction of EQIP tunnel at Moe Thu and Fom Chin’s farm.

After graduating from New Roots and starting his own farm in Kansas City, Kansas in 2022, Moe Thu received a NRCS EQIP grant to build a high tunnel. Friends, family, staff, and volunteers of Cultivate KC gathered to assemble the high tunnel in November of that year. Program support has made it possible for Moe Thu to access funding for critical infrastructure to expand his farm business and feed his community. 

Ca Saw, also a Kansas City, Kansas farmer and graduate of the New Roots program, applied for a NRCS EQIP grant last year and did not receive it at that time. Ca Saw is a resilient and patient farmer, however, and has applied for the grant again this year in hopes of receiving funding for his own high tunnel on his farm property. Despite that delay, Ca Saw has benefited from another NRCS program and received training and supplies to address pest issues using Integrated Pest Management techniques through the NRCS Equity in Conservation Cooperative Agreement earlier this year. However grueling the work can be, Ca Saw considers it his dream to be able to pursue farming on his own land.  

Images from the Pest Management Project and Farmer Ca Saw.

Even our Cultivate KC demonstration farm in the heart of Midtown has benefitted from a NRCS EQIP grant for its own high tunnel. It’s another way we exhibit an ecologically-minded growing approach to hundreds of volunteers and learning groups each year, something we are enthusiastic about, to say the least! The tunnel allows us to directly demonstrate the economic impact of growing in a high tunnel compared with in the adjacent field – the crops in the high tunnel are typically significantly larger and more productive than their counterparts in the field.  

These are just six examples of conservation programs at work in our local community, examples that hopefully display the willingness of farmers to do what it takes to ensure their farm’s success while also recognizing their environmental impact and being good stewards of the land. And there are dozens more stories to testify to that type of fortitude. Without question, NRCS programs and initiatives make it easier for growers to anticipate and persevere through unstable climate conditions. The popularity of and necessity for climate-smart agricultural practices is only going to continue growing exponentially in the coming years, and farmers desperately need leverage if we expect them to forge on in these uncertain times.  

Written by Courtney Hattaway, Cultivate KC’s Community Engagement Specialist